BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A defendant pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges brought earlier today in a criminal complaint and was immediately sentenced to a total of 13 months in prison, Acting United States Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Jennifer L. Thurston sentenced Angel Gilberto Garcia-Avalos, (Garcia), 29, of Michoacán, Mexico, to six months in prison for causing a fire on federal land that resulted in the Cedar Fire that has been burning in Kern and Tulare Counties. Judge Thurston also sentenced him to seven months in prison for two separate counts of making false statements to U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers. The sentences are to be served consecutively for a total of 13 months. The maximum possible sentence for each of the three charges was six months in prison. Garcia was also ordered to pay $61 million in restitution.
In sentencing Garcia, Judge Thurston noted that Garcia demonstrated “significant negligence” and took no action to get help after the fire started.
According to the complaint, the Cedar Fire started on August 16, 2016, when Garcia was driving off-road in the Sequoia National Forest. Garcia falsely represented to a Forest Service law enforcement officer on the day the fire started that his vehicle had been stolen after he parked it on the side of California Highway 155. Two weeks later, Garcia falsely represented to a special agent of the Forest Service that his vehicle was taken when he parked it on the paved road and that he had not driven his vehicle off the highway onto a dirt road.
According to the complaint, the Cedar Fire started in the area of the Cedar Creek Campground in the Sequoia National Forest in Kern County and spread to Tulare County. Garcia drove his vehicle off of Highway 155 onto an unimproved, rough dirt road in the forest. As he was driving on the dirt road, his car got stuck while attempting to drive over a berm and rolled back hitting a tree. The muffler and catalytic converter of the vehicle were in direct contact with dead grass and sparked the Cedar Fire. To date, the Cedar Fire has destroyed approximately 29,332 acres of National Forest land, including at least six residences.
This case was the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), the Kern County Fire Department, and the Kern County Probation Department. Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar prosecuted the case.