MADERA COUNTY – Day 10 of the preliminary hearing in the arson and conspiracy case of Kenneth Jackson and Allison Waterman got underway this morning in Madera Superior Court with two new witnesses.
First on the stand for the prosecution was fire investigator and Fire Captain Specialist Captain William Cacho.
Cacho was questioned by Senior Deputy District Attorney Sally Moreno about a fire that occurred on June 12 on Yosemite Springs Parkway, just west of the new bridge off Highway 41.
Cacho said he arrived about an hour after the fire was discovered right next to the road, and learned from Incident Commander Sean Fairbanks that a white sedan had been seen by a witness leaving the area in a hurry, just as the fire took off.
Cacho stated that he was unable to locate the sedan, but did attempt to do so by talking with CHP, witnesses at the scene and firefighters responding to the incident.
The witness who reported seeing the white car told investigators she stopped and attempted to put out the fire with her fire extinguishers, but both were out of chemical.
Another vehicle also stopped and the driver turned his extinguisher on the blaze, but it ran out of chemical and the fire took off, eventually burning about 6 acres.
Cacho told the court that he had located the remnants of a cigarette in the specific origin area. He said all that was left of it was the butt, and that it was white, as opposed to the tan color of many cigarette butts.
His conclusion was that the fire was started by a cigarette, though he could not say whether it was accidental or intentional. He did say that conditions that day were conducive to a fire being started by tossing a cigarette out the window if it were to land at a certain angle and in a receptive fuel bed.
Deputy D.A. Moreno then questioned Cacho about a fire referred to as Lakes #3, that occurred on the evening of June 14 at the end of Revis Circle East.
Many who have followed these fires may remember this particular incident because a white Jeep SUV was spotted leaving the area in a hurry, and a young man actually chased it down the street on his bicycle to get the license plate number.
As it turned out, the men in the Jeep were undercover Cal Fire investigators who had been spotted by defendants Waterman and Jackson while conducting their surveillance activities. The investigators were also seen by several residents leaving the area in the Jeep. Jackson told SNO at the scene that he had threatened one of the men with a gun, and had then jumped into his truck and chased the Jeep out of the park.
Captain Cacho testified that he spoke to Waterman about the incident, and that she was “very loud, outspoken and upset.”
“She told me that she saw someone in camoflauge and a Ghillie suit, and that the person yelled at her to get back to her house.”
“What did she say about the fire?” asked Moreno.
“She didn’t say much about the fire, she was more upset about being told to get back home,” Cacho testified. “She said the man in camo told her it was none of her business, and that he had used some inappropriate language.”
Cacho stated that Waterman said to him, “How dare he? Who does he think he is to tell me that?”
Cacho said that the fire on June 14 was located near the unoccupied home of an absentee owner, and is next to the defendants’ home. He also stated that no evidence of an incendiary device was recovered from the site, and all causes were excluded during his investigation, leaving only an intentionally set fire. He listed the cause as arson.
Next on the witness stand was Captain Richard Lopez, who has been with Cal Fire for 22 years, 9 of those years as a sworn peace officer.
Lopez was one of the three investigators assigned to “fixed surveillance” in the East Revis Circle area, and had been dispatched from Monterey County as part of a fire investigation team assigned to work this rash of suspicious fires. He stated that he also reviewed video tapes and assisted in putting together the evidence in the large binders to which all the witnesses and attorneys have been referring throughout the trial.
He was also one of the team of investigators who had been “hunkered down” in the bushes, complete with camouflage and face paint, watching the Jackson/Waterman residence and adjacent homes in the area during the two weeks leading up to the June 25 arrest.
He stated that he and his partner would be dropped off by a Cal Fire vehicle in the morning, and would walk about an hour and twenty minutes to their surveillance area.
Lopez testified that on that date, he was in position just up the hill from the home that was the site of the June 14th fire, and his partner was stationed just above the Jackson/Waterman house.
“I got a text from my partner that there was smoke in the area of the Waterman house,” said Lopez. “He notified me that engines were responding.”
Lopez says that he then saw Waterman walking toward his location.
“She kept looking back over her shoulder towards the smoke column near her house, walking away from the fire,” said Lopez. “Like nothing was out of the ordinary, just walking at a normal pace. There was no panic or excitement, none of that.”
Lopez said that when she got to the playground area near the vacant house where he was watching, the sounds of the sirens approaching became audible, and she stopped and looked back. Then he says, she turned and flew into a panicked state screaming, “Fire! Fire! Fire! I can’t believe the arsonist did another f*****g fire!” and ran back toward the road, waving her arms in the air.
The fire actually burned into the area where Lopez’s partner was hiding, and he was literally “burned out” of his hiding place.
By the time Lopez got back down to the road, he says Jackson was in handcuffs, and Waterman was mingling with the neighbors. He next testified that he was instructed to detain Waterman, and placed her in handcuffs.
He said Waterman asked to be moved so that she wasn’t in public view, since there were now about 50 neighbors and bystanders gathered at the entrance to the cul de sac. He did as she asked, offered her a bottle of water, and then handed her over the Chief Andy Anderson.
Lopez says he talked to four or five of the neighbors who had express a desire to speak with investigators. Several said that Waterman had been very vocal and animated about catching the arsonist, and one said Waterman told her that she kept a flashlight, camera and gun ready to catch them in the act.
On cross examination, Jackson’s attorney Craig Collins asked Lopez if he had ever investigated someone who works for Cal Fire for starting a fire, and seemed to be casting suspicion on Lopez’s surveillance partner when he said, “You don’t know where Ms. Waterman was in relation to that fire, but you do know where your partner was, don’t you.”
Testimony continues on Thursday, Oct. 10, at 11 a.m. in Department 2 before Judge Dale Blea. Both sides hope to finish the protracted process some time next week.
Jackson and Waterman remain in custody on $500,000 and $1,000,000 bond respectively.