SLO High arson damage climbs to about $2 million
December 28, 2016
The computer lab fire that three former San Luis Obispo High School students allegedly set caused more than $1.8 million worth of damage, according to several estimates. Police have now arrested each of the defendants twice, and one of the men remains in SLO County Jail. [Tribune]
A San Luis Obispo police report estimates the damage the fire caused to the computer lab alone is close to $1.35 million. However, San Luis Coastal officials say that is a conservative estimate when factoring in cleanup and rebuilding costs, as well as new furniture, computers and other equipment.
In addition to burning the computer lab, the Dec. 8 fire caused significant damage to the adjacent wood shop building. The police report estimates the damage done to the wood shop building at $250,000 to $500,000.
On top of rebuilding and fixing the structures, the school district is facing costs related to moving students, altering curricula and replacing damaged materials in the wood shop building.
On Tuesday, all three defendants in the case, Michael Benadiba, 18; Cameron Bratcher, 18; and Jacob Ruth, 19 appeared in San Luis Obispo Superior Court. A judge raised Benadiba and Bratcher’s bail from $25,000 to $100,000.
Still, both Benadiba and Bratcher bailed out of jail following the hearing. Ruth remains in jail with his bail set at $500,000. Ruth has been in custody since Dec. 16, the date of his second arrest.
Police officers arrested each of the defendants early on Dec. 9, shortly after the alleged arson. The defendants then bailed out of jail, and days later, officers arrested them again on additional arson charges. Ruth faces multiple arson, as well as burglary charges for separate incidents at the school in the weeks leading up to the computer lab fire.
On the night of the fire, officers found the defendants inside Ruth’s Ford Fusion sedan. Ruth allegedly allowed officers to search the vehicle.
While searching the car, the officers found an unused road flare with a stick attached to it. A partially burnt flare of the same model was reportedly lying at a nearby location outside the car.
A court declaration filed by district attorney’s office investigator Hank Abbas states Benadiba confessed to detectives that all three of the defendants were responsible for the fire.
Benadiba also allowed the detectives to search his cellphone, where they found a video showing a gloved hand pulling a fire alarm. A time stamp on the video showed it was shot at 10:15 p.m. on Dec. 6, the same night a fire alarm went off at SLO High, according to the declaration.
The court filing also states SLO High’s computer lab was burglarized on the night of Dec. 5; fire suppression equipment was destroyed at Pacheco School and the San Luis Obispo Classical Academy on Oct. 13; and heat sensitive equipment was recently removed from a fire sprinkler at Laguna Middle School. Abbas’ report does not state whether investigators believe the defendants were involved in those incidents.
All three defendants have pleaded not guilty. They are due back in court on Jan. 5.