Ten named in Tea Fire investigation

Rhys Alvarado and Kenny Lindberg, Rhys Alvarado and Kenny Lindberg, and Rhys Alvarado and Kenny Lindberg

The names of the 10 individuals charged with trespassing onto the Tea Gardens property and illegally starting a campfire were released last Tuesday, by the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s office.

The 10 people, nine of whom were City College students, are set to appear in court on March 2 for misdemeanors.

Penalties of up to $1,000 or a six-month prison sentence could be imposed if they are convicted.

The names of those facing charges are as follows: Mohammed Alessam, Fahad Al-Fadhel, Hope Sjohnet Dunlap, Hashim Ali Hassan, Casey James Lamonte, Natalie Rose Maese, Carver William McLellan, Stephen Reid, Joshua Grant Decker Trinidad, and Lauren Elizabeth Vazquez.

Hope Sjohnet Dunlap is a former member of The Channels from Fall 2008. When asked for an interview, Dunlap declined comment.

The Channels toured the campus, asking students about their thoughts on the nine City College students charged with illegally starting a campfire.

“I don’t think people realize how many people go up there (Tea Gardens),” said Culinary Arts student Tyler Seymour.

Seymour said that the Tea Gardens is a popular hangout and he thinks that other people could have been up there.

The Tea Fire started around 5:45 p.m. Nov. 13, nearly 14 hours after the campfire was supposedly extinguished.

“In 14 hours, a lot of stuff can happen,” Seymour said. “It’s hard to pin point this fire to one person.”

Other students thought that the individuals should be held responsible for starting the Tea Fire.

“It seems pretty obvious,” said Culinary Arts student Parker Davies. “That seems like the only link to the fire.” ?

A 3-month investigation into the Tea Fire was concluded on Feb. 13, by the District Attorney’s office. The team of six prosecutors assigned to the case have a combined total of 150 years of experience in the courtroom.

“There wasn’t one person of the six who thought we had enough evidence to file a case in criminal court,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Eric Hanson said.

City College officials have decided to not release any directory information for the nine students. Whether they are still enrolled at the school remains a mystery.

The college has chosen to not disclose such information in accordance with the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. Students are protected by this act to keep their information confidential.

It was initially believed that the 10 were responsible for the Tea Fire, which started in the 700 block of East Mountain Drive, and burned 1,940 acres of land. The blaze destroyed 210 homes in its path. Two residents were seriously injured as a result of the fire, and many had to evacuate their homes.

Dozens of tips were received by law enforcement after the start of the fire, with people claiming to have observed suspicious activity around the Tea Gardens prior to the blaze.

“One woman reported that she observed someone start the Tea Fire, and another said he saw flashlight activity within half an hour of the Tea Fire,” Hanson said.

However, not enough evidence existed to prosecute those individuals.

When asked if a second campfire could have ignited the Tea Fire, Hanson said there was “no direct evidence of that occurring.”

The District Attorney’s office also maintained that no special treatment was granted to the 10 individuals in not releasing their names earlier. It was done to protect the integrity of the investigation and not compromise sources – all standard procedures for criminal investigations.

“Victims of this fire include our own faculty, staff and students, and we have been deeply moved by their strength and resiliency as well as by the compassion and generosity of the many individuals and organizations who have stepped forward to assist those who are in need,” Superintendent-President Andreea Serban said in a statement Tuesday.

The 10 will be charged under both California penal code 602(j) and California public resources code section 4433. Penal code 602 pertains to trespassing, and code section 4433 relates to unlawfully maintaining a campfire on brush-covered land.