Somerset (Dec 31 2023) – An El Dorado County judge ruled on Friday that there’s insufficient evidence to take David and Shane Smith to trial in connection with the 2021 Caldor Fire. The judge dismissed charges related to recklessly starting the fire through target shooting but mandated the Smiths to face trial on weapons charges.
El Dorado District Attorney Vern Pierson’s office said Friday it
“put forth evidence that showed Travis Shane Smith and David Smith drove out to the location where the fire began and were shooting a firearm in the historically dry conditions that prevailed in Northern California at the time.”
Defense attorneys argued that there was no evidence linking the Smiths to the fire’s ignition and ridiculed the theory that gunfire caused the blaze in bone-dry conditions. The judge acknowledged shooting in the area but found no proof of the Smiths causing the fire.
“She said that she believes there was shooting in that area, she believes that others were shooting that morning and the day before, and that it is an area people commonly shoot at… However, she says there’s no evidence we caused the fire.”
- Defense attorney Reichel said.
“She found that there was insufficient evidence to show where the origin of the fire was, whether or not it was from a gunshot and that there was insufficient evidence to show even if it was from a gunshot that it was reckless,”
Linda Parisi, defense attorney for David Smith, said.
David and Travis Smith were charged with “reckless” arson in connection with the 2021 fire. A court found there was not enough evidence to meet the requirements that the behavior was reckless. The district attorney’s office said.
“As to reckless burning charges, the court found there was insufficient evidence to meet the legal requirements that the behavior was reckless as defined in Penal Code section 450, requiring that an individual knows their actions present a substantial and unjustifiable risk but consciously disregards that risk”
– according to the El Dorado District Attorney Vern Pierson.
Attorneys questioned the focus on the Smiths, suggesting investigators overlooked other potential suspects.
One of the individuals the lawyers raised questions about was then-Pioneer Fire Chief Mark Matthews, who was one of the first people on the scene of the fire and later told The Bee that he waged a fierce fight to keep the blaze from spreading.
Matthews, who died of cancer last year, had come under investigation years earlier in connection with a series of grass fires in Arizona where he was a firefighter, but never charged.
The Smiths, who had entered “not guilty” pleas, now await trial for weapons offenses. Travis is scheduled to be arraigned on Feb. 2 for possession of a machine gun charge. David is scheduled to be in court the same day for arraignment on a possession of silencers charge.