MADERA COUNTY – Kenneth Jackson and Allison Waterman were back in court on Thursday, Sept. 12, as their preliminary hearing picked up where it left off on Monday.
The husband and wife are charged with numerous counts of arson and conspiracy in connection with a string of fires throughout May and June of this year in the Coarsegold/Yosemite Lakes Park area.
They were arrested on June 25 and are being tried together in Madera Superior Court.
Cal Fire Captain Tim McCann continued his testimony about some of the fires he investigated over the six-week period, and the process for excluding all other causes, leaving only the option that a fire had been intentionally set.
“Of course fire has to be caused by something,” said McCann when we spoke to him on Friday. He then listed 12 things that need to be excluded in the course of any fire investigation – lightning, spontaneous combustion, campfire, smoking, debris burning, vehicles, equipment use, railroads, fireworks, playing with fire, power lines, and glass refractions. When all of those possibilities are eliminated, that leaves only an intentionally set fire – arson.
Jackson’s attorney, Craig Collins, went step by step through several of the reports filed by McCann, pointing out apparent inconsistencies and errors in the reports, and questioning the process for making corrections or changes to the reports weeks after they were first submitted.
McCann stated that when one is dealing with such a large number of fires in such a short period of time, reports are not always written on the day the fire is investigated, and that it is normal protocol for reports to be reviewed and revised.
Much was made about a cigarette butt found in the specific point of origin on the Lakes Fire, which burned near Fresh Meadows Lane and Road 400 on June 1.
There was a dispute as to exactly where the remnant of that cigarette was found, and just how many there were, due to what Collins said were conflicting statements in the report. But McCann was unequivocal in his opinion that the fire was not started by a cigarette being flicked out the window.
“Based on the methodology we use, on that day in those conditions, a cigarette could not have started that fire,” said McCann.
Thursday’s hearing lasted only about 90 minutes, as the prosecutor was taking a verdict in another court and wasn’t available until nearly 3 p.m. The scheduling issues in Dept. 2 continue to be a challenge for the court and the attorneys, and the proceeding will likely go into October.
Only 5 of the 31 charges against Jackson were dealt with in Collins’s cross-examination on Thursday, so the case is apparently just getting started.
Jackson and Waterman remain jailed on $500,000 and $1,000,000 bonds respectively.
The court will be dark most of next week, so the next date available is Monday, Sept. 23, at 11 a.m.