[BY SAM STANTON, Sac Bee. UPDATED DECEMBER 13, 2021 4:27 PM]
A Placerville judge Monday slashed the $1 million bail for the father and son accused of starting the Caldor Fire in August, saying there was no evidence that they acted maliciously and rejecting most arguments that they are a flight risk.
“Justice was done today,” said Mark Reichel, defense attorney for Travis Shane Smith, 32, whose bail was reduced to $50,000. His father, David Scott Smith, 66, had his bail reduced to $25,000 after his attorney, Linda Parisi, joined Reichel in arguing that the men are lifelong residents of the area with no criminal history and no reason to leave behind their lives and families.
“These men want to come to court and to clear their names,” Parisi said. “This is the community they live in, the community they love.”
The two men sat handcuffed in the jury box in orange jail garb wearing face masks while their lawyers argued for them. $2 for 2 months Subscribe for unlimited access to our website, app, eEdition and more CLAIM OFFER Prosecutor Nora Hall countered that the potential prison sentences they could face – 14 years for Shane Smith, 12 for his father – and the unknown amount of restitution they might be ordered to pay made them potential flight risks.
But El Dorado Superior Court Judge Ralph Marks noted that the charges they face do not show they pose a danger to the community and said a reduction in bail was warranted because there is no indication either man acted intentionally when the fire erupted.
“There is no evidence that this was malicious,” the judge said, adding that the fire was one of the worst disasters to hit the region. Reichel and Parisi argued in a court filing for a bail reduction to $100,000 or less, and said after court that there is no evidence either man sparked the fire.
Instead, they said, the prosecution is arguing “it is likely” they did because the men were in the area when it began and they called 911 to report it, giving dispatchers their names. David Smith of Somerset and his son, Shane Smith of Folsom, were arrested last week and held in the El Dorado County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail each on felony counts of recklessly starting a fire, as well as weapons charges involving a machine gun and silencer.
Hall filed documents Monday saying the father and son are a danger and should remain held on $1 million bail each.
The Caldor Fire burned more than 220,000 acres in El Dorado, Amador and Alpine counties and destroyed entire neighborhoods, including much of the community of Grizzly Flat.
More than 1,000 homes, business and other structures were destroyed, and five people were injured.
The blaze burned for 67 days through the Sierra foothills along Highway 50, and forced the evacuations of thousands of residents from South Lake Tahoe, Pollock Pines and other communities.
In a court filing Monday morning, Reichel and Parisi argued that although they received 5,000 pages of discovery evidence from prosecutors on Sunday, there are scant details that would tie either man to the fire.
“There is no ‘cause and origin’ report by an arson investigator/expert with an opinion as to the source or cause of the fire,” they wrote.
“There is no theory advanced by the prosecution as to how and in what manner and with what means that either defendant is responsible for the start of the fire.”
They also argued that despite the fact that others were in the area Aug. 14 where the fire started — including miners tending to claims and others with vehicles and campfires — “none of these persons saw the defendants allegedly start the fire.”
The attorneys also note that the men immediately called 911 to report the blaze. “There is no dispute from the people’s evidence that the defendants called 911 to report the fire as soon as they had cell coverage, and no dispute that they warned others of the fire immediately,” Reichel and Parisi argued. “Their behavior was anything other than ‘reckless.’”
The lawyers also noted that neither man had any criminal history, and submitted letters of support from friends, relatives and co-workers attesting to their integrity and arguing that neither is a flight risk.
Prosecutors opposed the effort to reduce bail, writing in a motion that there is “clear and convincing” evidence the pair are a danger to the community.
Hall also argued that Shane Smith’s social media posts demonstrate “his interest in shooting, firearms, burning fires, using incendiary ammunition, and a general lack of concern for proper firearms safety when shooting.” “Shane’s social media posts include a photo and videos posted in February 2020 and March 2020 that show him shooting ‘Dragon’s Breath’ incendiary rounds from firearms,” Hall wrote.
“The incendiary rounds cause a significant amount of ignited material to eject from the barrel.” She added that the February 2020 post purported to be in the “Navada(sic) Desert,” but actually was on his father’s El Dorado County property.” Hall also said that earplugs found in the area of the fire’s ignition were analyzed for DNA and “revealed that Shane was included as a potential contributor of the DNA.”
Investigators also determined that Shane’s Polaris off-road vehicle was in the area of the fire before it ignited and was there for 20 minutes, “then stopped on Caldor Road at a time consistent with Shane’s 911 call.” Investigators have been probing whether the fire was ignited by target shooting.
Court files say that five days before the fire Shane Travis arranged a straw purchase from a seller in Arizona for a “Rare Breed Trigger” device that can convert an AR-1 5 into a machine gun. The prosecution also wrote that Shane Smith has used a work-issued cell phone to record a conversation he had with a federal investigator concerning the fire. “This work-issued cellphone has since gone missing,” court papers say. The judge ordered both men to remain in California unless they get permission from the court to travel, and ordered both to hand over all firearms and ammunition while awaiting trial.
This story was originally published December 13, 2021 2:10 PM.