By ALEXIS ESPINOZA
The preliminary trial hearing continued for the suspects accused of starting the Pier Fire, that caused roughly $40 million in damage in August of 2017, on Tuesday afternoon in Department 17 of the South County Justice Center in Porterville.
Osvaldo Esparzaguerrero, Richard Renteria and Isiac Renteria sat in the court clad in white inmate jumpsuits behind each of the respective attorneys, while Breane Ojeda, out of custody, sat in a green jacket with a black shirt behind her own lawyer.
The hearing continued with fire investigator Brian Adams who had responded to the scene of the fire. The prosecution began by questioning Adams about how he was able to obtain the cell phone data evidence from the time and area around which the fire occurred. Adams answered he obtained the phone records through a court order from AT&T. The two cell phones towers the data came from are located near Springville and in Strathmore. The requested recorder included all hits in those towers between 9 p.m. on August 28, 2017 and 3 a.m. on August 29, 2017.
Adams was asked how long he had been patrolling the area of the towers and how close his station was to the location of the towers. He replied he had been patrolling the area of the Hatchet Peak Tower, near Springville, since 1992 and the tower was between 50 and 60 miles from his station.
The prosecution then asked Adams what information was provided in the cell phone records, to which he replied a list of phones numbers that had pinged on the towers during the requested times was provided. Included in the list was a breakdown of each cell phone number, what numbers that specific cell number had contact with, the time of contact, the date of contact, and the format in which the contact was made (i.e. Text message, phone call, etc.) Adams stated the lists he was provided with were relatively short.
The prosecution switched up approach and began asking Adams about his investigation into the Pier Fire case. The prosecution asked Adams if he spoke to the manager of a rental car company, located in Sacramento Isiac Renteria had been employed with, regarding a cell phone number on the list. After asking the manager of the company, Adams determined the number had belonged to Isiac Renteria. Adams was asked if he conducted a search warrant for the physical cell phone, and he replied he personally didn't conduct a warrant, but the Tulare County DA office did. He then informed the court Isiac Renteria's number matched a ping off the Hatchet Peak Tower at roughly 1:30 a.m. on the morning of August 29, 2017.
Adams was asked if he had conducted an investigation regrading the vehicles that were reported stolen for the rental company in Sacramento which were the same vehicles suspected to be the origin of the Pier Fire. Adams answered he had indeed conducted an investigation on those vehicles. Adams stated he viewed surveillance footage from the car rental company and saw an individual who looked like Renteria entering into the rental lot, moving two vehicles to gain access to a yellow Camaro, then entering the Camaro and leaving. He was then presented with six still photos from the footage and asked to describe what he was seeing in the photos.
Adams was asked if he had investigated any of the structures that were damaged in the fire. He replied two structures were damaged and he did investigate them. Adams was presented a series of photos, some of which he took himself, of the structures and was asked to describe what he saw. The prosecution finished the examination of Adams by asking if any of the first responders on scene were injured, and Adams stated there were injuries sustained by firefighters working to contain the fire.
As the cross examination of Adams began, he was asked what day he was called to respond to the fire. Adams answered he responded to the scene on August 28, 2017, and it took him roughly 4 ½ to get there. Adams was then asked how he determined the origin or cause of the fire, to which he answered he had discussed the origin and cause with the lead fire investigator for the case. He stated the initial investigation had already been completed by the lead fire investigator, and they came to a consensus within two hours of his arrival on scene.
Adams was then asked when the fire report was finished by the lead fire investigator and he replied he didn't know. He was then questioned about the structures that were damaged by the fire and if anyone was residing there at the time. He answered no, no one was residing there at the time of the fire, but both structures were often used by the owners from family get-togethers and for vacation stays.
Once Adams was dismissed from the stand, a second person, Floyd Hager, was called to the stand. Hager works as a DA for the Tulare County office. Hager explained he has been a DA for 24 years and was contacted by Adams regarding the rental car company in the case. He was aware multiple vehicles had been stolen from the lot and were then transported to the City of Visalia. He then asked investigators to check the area in which a previous stolen vehicle from the company had been located. Upon arriving to that location in Visalia, the yellow Camaro taken from the lot was located. Richard Renteria, Osvaldo Esparzaguerrero, and Breane Ojeda were then arrested in connection to the stolen yellow Camaro.
Hager stated during his interview with Ojeda , she began to give him a flow of information regarding the cars. Hager stated Ojeda had told him during the interview she had taken Richard Renteria and Esparzaguerrero to Sacramento and dropped them off at the rental car company. After dropping them off, Ojeda's personal license plates were removed from her personal vehicle by Richard Renteria and Esparzaguerrero. She then drove to a nearby gas station and waited with Esparzaguerrero for Richard Renteria's return.
Hager reported Richard Renteria returned to the gas station twice, in two different vehicles. Esparzaguerrero jumped in one of the vehicles brought by Richard Renteria, before the three of them began to drive back to Visalia in three separate cars.
Hager stated Ojeda told him the black Challenger that was driven back by Richard Renteria was taken into the mountains and burned, and she knew this because text messages and phones were sent to her sharing the story of how the fire was ignited. Hager stated Ojeda told him Richard Renteria had admitted to starting the fire on August 29.
As 5 p.m. neared and time began to run short, presiding judge Michael Sheltzer asked for the preliminary trial hearing to be continued. He stated cross examination of Hager had yet to begin, and that more time would be needed for this case. He set the continuance of the preliminary hearing to March 20 at 1:30 p.m. in Department 17 of the South County Justice Center in Porterville.