Teen who set Cocos Fire sentenced to community service

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SAN DIEGO -- A teenage girl convicted of multiple arson charges for starting a fire a year ago that sparked the larger Cocos wildfire, which blackened nearly 2,000 acres and destroyed more than 35 homes and other structures, was sentenced Wednesday.

Judge Howard Shore ordered the girl to work 400 hours of community service, report back to the judge every 60 days and to pay restitution to the victims of the massive fire.  The girl will not spend any time in custody, must attend school and is required to write apology letters to each victim.

"Judge hopes to see something positive come out of this case," said Deputy District Attorney Shawnalyse Ochoa, who explained why the sentencing was "fitting."

PaseoTierraHomeowner Chuck Higby lost his garage to the wildfire last May. He addressed the media outside the courthouse Wednesday and was visibly distraught by the judge's ruling.

"It’s going to be a slap on the wrist. It took the judge forever to get to the part of the speech about how bad he felt for us and all the devastation she caused," Higby said. "We're left with nothing and she's allowed to ride her bike around, but not in our neighborhood."

After a two-week non-jury trial, Shore ruled that the girl, now 14, intentionally set a fire in her backyard on May 13, 2014, then, the next day, set a blaze in her neighbor's backyard that sent an ember nearly a half-mile to spark the Cocos fire. Ochoa said the girl expressed glee and laughed when she told her sister about the May 13 fire.

The girl was convicted of three arson counts and one misdemeanor count of allowing a fire to get out of control. Shore ruled that the teen acted willfully and maliciously in setting the fires but said there was no evidence to suggest she intended to harm anyone or burn homes.

The girl, then 13, told investigators she knew that intentionally setting a fire was wrong but she wanted to see what would happen if she did.

"She knew she was doing something wrong, and she did it anyway,'' Ochoa said in her closing argument.

The girl who set the Cocos Fire walks into court.

The girl who set the Cocos Fire walks into court.

The girl went to her room after setting the second fire, allowing that blaze to grow into a larger fire, which sparked the Cocos blaze, the prosecutor said. Two Cal Fire investigators determined that an ember from the fire behind the girl's home traveled .44 of a mile to spark the Cocos fire, according to the prosecutor.

"I haven’t seen one sign of regret from her or her family," said Dan Eubank, victim.

Eubank's home on Crestwind Drive was burnt to the ground.  With help from his neighbors, Dan is rebuilding little by little.

"It's going to be a much smaller home," said Eubank.  "It may never get completely while we’re alive.  I’m not sure."

Eubank called the sentence disturbing.

"We see her riding her bike.  Laughing and running around with other friends," said Eubank.

He said she will continue to run free while he and his neighbors are punished for her crime.

"It’s just like her life will go on from the day it happened," said Dan.  "We're stuck here, we’re stuck in years of misery."

The Cocos fire was one of more than a dozen brushfires that erupted in hot, dry and windy conditions last spring. Officials said fighting the fires cost nearly $28 million.

The girl is expected back in court for a hearing to explain her progress on July 21.

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58 comments

  • jziltz

    That girl has some serious mental issues, Abandoment issues and obviously bad parents. That child has caused trauma on many people and families. That child also burned many homes not only to people but to animals. That child may I remind is 14 should be tried as an adult and should get to spend time in jail.

    • jose

      Tried as adult?? what country are you from? Her parents should pay they are the responsible “adults” who should have been aware of her behavior…

  • Chad

    Well lucky for her she is the correct skin color to get off with that sentence any other color would have done some juvenile time. Funny thing is I work at SD probation dept @ meadowlark dr I’m not an officer but a counselor the thing is she was not trailed as an adult yet she was not in custody during her court hearings hmmmm… Juveniles have to be incarcerated during court hearings when arrested. Only when trailed as an adult do you get the opportunity for bail. So obviously there is no special treatment here..
    I seen plenty of other less intense cases were the juvenile does some time
    Thank you court system for your work

    • mario

      I am still looking for the fair and balanced side of how this whole thing was handled…I agree with your comments

    • 0928texas

      Not the least bit true Chad; almost every juvenile defendant is released to the custody of their parents. Only for violent felonies, where parents are unable to care or control them, is incarceration pending trial required.

  • mario

    What a joke….and then we wonder what’s wrong with our society…this girl’s family has money so she gets away with a crime (community service in this case is getting away with a crime)….If my kid or a kid in a poor neighborhood did this they would spend time in juvenile hall….WHAT A JOKE

  • Kathy NO

    Fire that asinine judge. Kick him off the bench. What an idiot, This girl is going to go on to me crime. slap on the wrist after she destroyed so many lives. unbelievable

  • Mystique

    She should be put behind bars! She devasted the lives of so many people!! The judge should be behind bars too!!!! Makes me sick!

  • TERRY COBB

    She will be re-arrested before her next court date. Fire bugs love to watch things burn. This girl will set another fire withing three months.

  • Jonathan Livingston

    Let’s see here, 400 hours for community service divided by the usual eight hour work day equals to 50 days of work and with weekends off she’ll finish her service in ten weeks. If we take into account that the per-hour minimum wage in our state is $9 then she’ll “repay” the community a grand total of $3,600, so she’ll still be short by about $27,996,400 for restitution to the victims.

    It’s simply not fair. While it’s ludicrous to expect a teenager to payoff such huge amount of damage, there has to be a better way for justice to all the victims in the Cocos’ fire. The sentence given to her was barely a slap in the wrist and I agree, community service does absolutely nothing, it should be only be reserved for petty crime.

    Then again, teenager’s brain isn’t fully developed yet so her actions while tragic cannot be fully be comprehended by the perpetrator and she might need counseling and guidance in the near future but for now our local government should seek and help the victims to get their life back and I hope they had homeowners’ insurance.

    And speaking of insurance, shouldn’t there be a teenager’s insurance?

    • Wowshegotawaywithit

      Wow, the math was the first thing I did in my head too. Her service wouldnt even pay a month of mortgage of many homes. She will in no way grasp the severity of the destruction she caused. How this is considered rehabilitation is beyond me. She needs to be punished for the crime, she needs to be treated mentally, and she needs to do community service to learn about empathy and the greatness of serving others. I heard on the news the judge ordered her to write apologies to the victims. It blows my mind she didn’t do this on her own in the over 1 year she had since the fires. As a victim, receiving a court ordered apology is almost like mockery. What a sad sad day! Too bad the judge didn’t live amongst the victims to really grasp the severity. I wake up every morning to seeing an archway, which is all that is left of my neighbors home.

      • Ill be damned

        Exactly. She should’ve written those apology letters last year if she was even the least bit remorseful. I feel bad for the victims of this fire.

    • Wowshegotawaywithit

      Oh trust me everyone in the neighborhood knows exactly who she is. The sad things is she still lives among all the victims so we all live with the fear daily. This is a woman who already set 2 fires in our neighborhood and still she sits… Guess we should all just wait for her next “episode”

    • Dr. IMA TELLYU

      Nice. What kind of spineless coward seeks revenge on a little girl? Nice try (NOT) at disguising your encouragement for others to seek her out and cause her harm. Way to incite violence. You should be so proud. You weak little wimp. BTW, you are LITERALLY an idiot.

      • Rick

        What kind of spineless coward sides with the demented perpetrator? Oh yeah, the mom and dad. It is very evident from all your posts in these comments that you must be one of the parents.

        • liarlairpantsonfire

          Little girl? If she was a “little girl” why wasn’t she being supervised? I have a daughter the sand age as this girl. We have discussed this case from the beginning. Her mother comes off like a simpleton. The news has shown her face, by accident, and today the prosecutor used her name. Everyone who wants to knows who she is. Why shouldn’t they? One thing that puzzles me is who in the world would allow their children to associate with her . If I were her sister, I would be looking forward to going off to college and getting away from her. Who knows what she’ll be wondering “what will happen” about next. She should be in a work camp, clearing fire brush until she’s 18.

  • Valerie

    There was no justice done in teaching this girl who set the Cocos Fire, nor any other minor. The judge failed the victims and brought no justice to this matter. I was there and lived through it, and the punishment should have be more substantial so that it made both the fire starter and any other potential pyromaniacs do an about face.

  • Dave james

    The whole country is run by damm fools from the pres on down she should die for such a crime! age is no excuse 12 or a 112 you burn down houses you die …..light my house on fire and I’ll twist your empty head off

    • Dr. IMA TELLYU

      You are a sick individual. Your property is not as important as a little girl’s life. You poor, entitled elitist. You make threats from behind a keyboard but would probably cower in fear if you actually had to confront a 13 yr old little girl in person. Wow, so tough.

        • Dr. IMA TELLYU

          You’d be wrong moron. I have no idea who this girl is. I also don’t think she’s a victim. She comitted a disgusting, senseless crime that caused immeasurable heartbreak and loss. I truly feel for the families who lost their home and property. I also feel she got off way to easy as far as her punishment goes. I’m not an enabler, but I’m not a part of a mob who is blinded by rage and hungry for blood
          The fact is, she is a little girl. She was 13 when she comitted the crime. She is obviously in need of mental health treatment as she does not understand the grave consequences of her actions. Although I believe she deserves a stiffer punishment, I don’t feel she should “have her head twisted off” or be “burned at the stake”. If you people believe she should pay for her mistake with her life, then you are sick. Do you really believe she should die for being a dumb, reckless child? Possibly even just a sick, mentally disabled child.

      • liarlairpantsonfire

        She is a mentally disturbed child who has shown no interest in even apologizing. As she try’s new ways to get attention and prove that she is special and chosen and the rules therefore don’t apply to her, more people will suffer the consequences. She’s not a victim. In fact, on this whole entire case, she’s the only one who not a victim. Enablers, just like YOU, allow children like this to grow into full blown psychopaths.

  • Rick

    Meanwhile many 12-13 year olds get time for doing graffiti. What would the sentence be if a black or Latino was caught sprawling graffiti all over an upscale neighborhood?
    Get out and vote, take the seat away from this judge.
    All homeowners that lost everything in the coco fire have been made a joke of.

    • Dr. IMA TELLYU

      No, posting ignorant comments like yours is what makes you a joke. Playing the “race card” and passing assumptions based on zero evidence also serve to identify you as, not only a joke, but a race baiter. People like you are what’s dividing this country.

      • Rick

        Ok “Dr” the truth hurts. I only believe in one race, the human race so not playing a race card. Just stating the facts. lol. Have you been to a Los Angeles county youth detention center?
        You must be the mother of this mentally challenged girl.

  • Maddie

    This is nuts! Teens get jail time for drug charges but not for burning multiple homes. Fucking insane.

  • Courtney

    The Coco’s fire caused my family to be evacuated from our home for 4 days and caused my boyfriend to lose his job. The fire came within 1/4 mile of our home. The fact that she only got community service, restitution and a few misdemeanors what will be expunged when she turns 18 anyways is appalling. I don’t understand how her sentence is considered “rehabilitation”. It just makes her feel invincible. Obviously so, if she can ride her bike around a neighborhood she just burned to the ground with a sh*t eating grin on her face and no remorse for the lives she has ruined. My family was one of the lucky ones. My heart goes out to the people who lost their homes.

  • J

    Guarantee you if this she was male or a minority she would have been charged as an adult. Young white females have no accountability in this country.

  • 0928texas

    Such incredibly ignorant comments here; the authors know nothing of juvenile law, they just want their Old Testament justice without regard to the girl, her future, or her well-being.

    You suffered? I’m sorry. Hopefully you had good fire insurance, or learned that your policy needed to be replaced by good fire insurance. Would your suffering be any less if the cause of the fire wasn’t determined? Better still, would your suffering be less if you were able to make her suffer?

    The entire County rallied behind those who lost as a result of the Cocos and other fires over the last decade. But those same victims have no room in their hearts for a child who needs teaching; they think the lesson is incarceration. What ignorance.

  • systemcoddleswhitegirls

    Just yet another example of how the system coddles little white girls, no matter how malicious and how bad the crime. Meanwhile, the other system justifies killing unarmed men.

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