Restitution Order of Colby Fire Starters ‘Completely Unfair,’ Emergency Manager Said

Photo courtesy of Marc Pijuan

As Glendora dries out after this most recent round of rain carried silty runoff and debris into the streets, some city officials feel residents were not given justice after a judge’s recent restitution order.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge George Wu ordered Steven Aguirre, Clifford Henry, Jr. and Jonathan Jarrell to pay over $9.16 million in restitution to various responding agencies, insurance companies and to individual victims of January’s Colby Fire.

In the sentencing position documents provided by Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns, Glendora officials calculated the city’s costs in response to the fire at $654,776. Prosecutors asked the court to order the suspects to pay just over $703,161 to the city.

Glendora, however, will receive just over $48,385 to cover payroll costs the Police Department incurred responding to the fire, said Jamie Caldwell, emergency services manager for Glendora.

Caldwell, who spent 27 years with the Glendora Police Department before retiring in 2013, was present at the restitution hearing.

“The last time Judge Wu had this case in front of him … the prosecution was asking that he consider the damage done by the mudslides back in February and March as part of the restitution. The judge thought it was a good idea,” Caldwell told Glendora City News.

However a federal probation officer apparently convinced Wu that any floods that occurred could not be proven as a direct result of the Colby Fire and Wu then decided reimbursement received would only cover the Colby Fire, Caldwell said.

“Needless to say, walking out of that court I was not the happiest person in the world,” Caldwell said.

“A $9 million restitution order is very significant,” Johns told Glendora City News. “However, no amount of money is going to fully compensate the victims who lost homes, family photos and other mementos.”

Johns said that when each of the men would pay the restitution is anybody’s guess.

“Our job as prosecutors is not to look at a defendant and say if they are able to afford to pay it. Our obligation is to do our best and make those victims whole again and seek that a restitution order is issued,” Johns said.

In August, Steven Aguirre and Clifford Henry, Jr., were tried together and found guilty of one felony count and three misdemeanors related to igniting the Colby Fire and sentenced to time in federal prison.

Aguirre received a four-month sentence, with Henry, Jr. receiving a six-month sentence.

Third suspect Jonathan Jarrell, who was found guilty of one felony offense of unlawfully setting timber afire, is scheduled to be sentenced in June of 2015 after undergoing a mental health and dug rehabilitation program.

During sentencing, Wu likened the ignition of the Colby Fire to a drunk driver whose careless actions have unintended consequences, according to the Los Angeles Register.

The prison sentence handed down by Wu to both Aguirre and Henry, Jr. was also a disappointment. For the Colby Fire suspects, the low recommendation for sentencing was 60 to 66 months in federal prison, much higher than what Wu handed down.

“To me it almost appeared that the judge had more concern for the suspects than he did for the victims,” Caldwell said. “What kind of a message does that send?”

The residents of Glendora, however, can find solace in the fact that the city has worked diligently since the Colby Fire to anticipate and prepare for future dangers from mudslides and debris flows, Caldwell said.

The Colby Fire burned 1,952 acres across the mountains from Glendora to Azusa, destroying six homes, damaging eight and burning 17 other structures.

The resulting mudslides that occurred in February/March and Nov. 21 damaged several homes in Azusa and Glendora, specifically in the Easley Estates gated community where a virtual four-foot wall of mud caused some damage to a resident’s garage Nov. 21.

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