BANNING (CBSLA) — A garbage truck driver who was arrested earlier this year on suspicion of igniting the 2019 Sandalwood Fire will appear in court Tuesday on charges of involuntary manslaughter.
Antonio Ornelas-Velazquez, 38, of Desert Hot Springs, is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday on two counts of involuntary manslaughter and one count of burning an inhabited structure. He was arrested in February.
Prosecutors say Ornelas-Velazquez was driving a trash truck for a waste and recycling company in the area of 7th Street and Sandalwood Drive in Calimesa on Oct. 10, 2019 when he saw smoke coming from his hopper and pulled over near open brush. Despite the hot, dry, and windy conditions and another truck driver and a second motorist stopping to warn him against doing so, Ornelas-Velazquez dumped the burning load onto the ground, igniting a fire in nearby brush, according to prosecutors.
The flames were whipped to a nearby mobile home park, where 72 homes were destroyed and two residents were killed – 89-year-old Lois Arvikson and 61-year-old Hannah Labelle. The Sandalwood Fire ultimately burned a total of 1,011 acres in four days.