Police discover more from indicted arson suspect
SAN BERNARDINO — Rickie Lee Fowler, whose arrest this past summer for his part in the 2003 Old Fire that took the lives of five people, keeps adding more and more details to his role.
Investigators recently said that San Bernardino County’s most destructive fire may have been started by a group of men who were took drunk, or stoned, to pull off a robbery.
Fowler, the suspected arsonist who is the only one in custody, told sheriff’s detectives that he was in a van with three other men in the Old Waterman Canyon area. He went to rob John Aylward, who police say is Fowler’s godfather.
“Once they got there, they realized they were too drunk and/or high to pull off a robbery,” said Sgt. Frank Bell in sworn testimony before a grand jury. “So they drove off about halfway down the Waterman Canyon Road, where they parked and continued to get high.”
It’s a new twist to the events leading up to the Oct. 25, 2003 fire that burned for nine days, charred more than 91,000 acres and destroyed nearly 1,000 homes, resulting in $170 million in property losses, according to public figures. About 70,000 people were evacuated from Del Rosa to Cedar Glen, two sections of San Bernardino.
Fowler told investigators, in documents recently released, that he was in the front passenger seat. He remembers Martin Valdez Sr. and his son, Martin, Jr., got out and went to the back of the van. Fowler said he saw them strike a flare and throw it into the bush.
But Bell said when detectives listened to their recording of their interview with Fowler, they discovered a discrepancy in his recollection.
“He said he remembered because he remembers striking the flare,” Bell said, referring to Fowler, “and he corrected himself and said, ‘I remember them striking the flare.’”
Witnesses, plus various people that have heard Fowler making statements about his involvement, led police investigators to their one and only arrest in the case. Fowler was indicted this past October. A trial is scheduled to begin in March 2010.