New details in Caldor Fire case as trial looms

El Dorado County Superior Court, Placerville

This article focuses on the impending trial of the People vs David and Shane Smith. If you are looking for my reports on the earliest days of the Caldor Fire, click here.

14 months after their arrest and following many delays, David and Travis (Shane) Smith will soon appear in an El Dorado County courtroom as their case continues. The father-son pair stands accused of starting the Caldor Fire in August, 2021. The Caldor Fire went on to become one of the most destructive wildfires in California history.

The Smiths will appear in the Placerville courthouse at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 7th, for the Preliminary Examination. The hearing, expected to last two days, is a key part of the pre-trial process in Califortnia. The purpose of the preliminary examination is to determine whether there is sufficient probable cause to believe the defendants committed the crime. For the first time, the District Attorney will layout a much broader view of their full evidence. The defense team will have an opportunity to respond, and the presiding judge will determine whether to continue with trial.

As I previously reported, Shane is charged with three felonies related to reckless arson, all with enhancements, and two weapons charges. David, Shane’s father, is charged with the same felony counts of arson as well as possession of a silencer. You can read more about the charges here and here. A single count of reckless arson carries up to 9 years in prison in California.

For the first time in six months, I interviewed the Smiths’ defense attorney, Mark Reichel. He continues to proclaim his clients’ innocence. “I know my clients didn’t start the fire, they know they didn’t the fire, and soon everyone will also know they didn’t start the fire,” he said.

He told me that his clients are doing well, all things considered, and are looking forward to clearing their name. David and Shane are free on $25,000 and $50,000 bonds, respectively, after a judge reduced the DA’s request for a $1 million bond each in December, 2021.

With the preliminary examination scheduled, I asked if he has received any clarity on the DA’s theory of how the fire was ignited. “Look, first they said it was cigarettes, then they said it was 9mm casings, now they are saying it was because Shane modified a weapon and shrapnel came out. Who knows what they will say next…” replied Reichel.

I asked Reichel if he could elaborate on the DA’s emerging shrapnel theory. While he declined to say what kind of firearm was illegally modified, according to the DA, he did say it was not a 9mm.

I have previously reported on 9mm casings, discovered by the first incident commander on scene, Mark Matthews, the late Chief of the Pioneer Fire District. You can read that story here.

The attorney went on to claim that he can “easily prove” neither David nor Shane started the fire. He declined to elaborate.

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Colleague Claims Matthews ‘Hopes’ to Sue Pioneer Fire District

According to multiple sources, Pioneer Fire Chief Mark Matthews “hopes to sue the district board of directors for creating a hostile work environment.” Speaking on condition of anonymity, a long-time friend and colleague claims Matthews told them he “got a lawyer because the board harassed him.” The source also said that Matthews took medical leave because the environment was “making him sick.”

Another source claims to have had a conversation with Matthews just before the chief pulled his 5th wheel out of Station 31. Recounting their conversation the source told me, “He (Matthews) said he got a lawyer. He was pretty pissed. He’s gonna go after them for harassment.”

Two days ago the Pioneer Fire Protection District announced a Board of Directors Special Meeting has been added to the calendar. The meeting is scheduled for 4:00 p.m. on Monday, February 21. There are two items listed on the agenda under closed session: Anticipated Litigation and Fire Chief.

This story will be updated as it develops.

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