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Patience, Persistence Pay Off in Arson Case

Photo courtesy San Marino Fire Department – A vehicle burns at the intersection of Granada Avenue and Huntington Drive during the early morning of Dec. 1, 2020. Thanks to the work of the SMFD arson investigators, a suspect was arrested and is currently in state prison.

At the time, it seemed like just another car fire — not that such an occurrence is commonplace in town.
San Marino’s Engine 91 had been dispatched to a report of a vehicle fire at the intersection of Granada Avenue and Huntington Drive on Dec. 1, 2020, at 4:41 a.m. Firefighters arrived on the scene to find a Chevy Silverado pick-up truck “fully involved,” as the firefighting lexicon goes, with flames encroaching on several Granada Avenue homes. After several minutes, they were able to extinguish the blaze.

But the end of the fire was just the beginning of the story, fire department officials recently recounted.
During the SMFD’s investigation, it was determined that the fire started in the interior of the vehicle. A hydrocarbon gas detector indicated the presence of a flammable liquid. Capt. Jason Sutliff, one of the San Marino Fire Department’s arson investigators, collected several items as evidence and forwarded them to a crime lab for analysis. The inquiry concluded that a flammable liquid was present in all of the evidence collected.
The arson investigators conducted a follow up query that resulted in finding a witness, who described an individual that was seen wiping down the pick-up truck the day before the fire before leaving it parked on Granada Avenue.
A thorough canvassing of the area resulted in the discovery of a residential security camera that confirmed the witness’s description of the suspect. Video that was gathered from several sources provided investigators with a full facial view of the suspect. Arson investigators working in conjunction with the San Marino Police Department’s Detective Nia Hernandez — along with the assistance of the Pasadena Police Department — were able to use facial recognition software to identify 26-year-old Daniel Martinez Lopez. It was further determined that Lopez returned to the vehicle the following morning and, at about 4:15 a.m., Lopez is observed on security camera video lighting a long piece of cloth and throwing it into the truck. The pick-up truck quickly ignited and rapidly burned.
Lopez was arrested by another law enforcement agency for outstanding warrants, which included an arrest warrant for an arson fire in San Marino, officials said. Lopez ultimately pled guilty to the charge of arson and possession of a stolen vehicle. He was recently sentenced to one-and-a-half years in state prison, will be required to register as an arsonist and receive two years’ probation, according to San Marino Fire Chief Mario Rueda.
“One of the main reasons for keeping trained arson investigators is to ensure that if someone commits the crime of arson in San Marino, they know they will be chased down and brought to justice,” Rueda said. “This person was taken off of the streets by the excellent work of the San Marino Fire Department arson investigators, along with the assistance of our San Marino Police Department detectives.”

Now in his 25th year at The Tribune, Mitch Lehman is Editor and Sports Editor in addition to being the public address announcer for ten sports programs at San Marino High School. Mitch is one of only a handful in the community to receive the ‘Very Special Person Award’ from the San Marino PTA at the annual Founder’s Day ceremony, was acknowledged as a 'Terrific Titan' by the San Marino High School PTSA, was named an Honorary Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Club of San Marino and received a National Honorary Merit Badge in Journalism from the Boy Scouts of America. He has received two independent Pulitzer Prize nominations and in the past three years, Mitch has won seven awards and is a thirteen-time finalist in the California News Publishers Association's Better Newspapers Contest. In 2015, the press box at Titan Stadium was re-named 'Lehman's Loft' in his honor. You can reach Mitch at mitchlehman@sanmarinotribune.com.

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