Brush fire arsonist deemed insane at time of 2016 fire-setting

A man runs through a brush fire Tuesday in Neenach. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman. A man runs through a brush fire Tuesday in Neenach. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman. Flames burn in Neenach as firefighters arrive on the scene to fight the blaze. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman. Flames burn in Neenach as firefighters arrive on the scene to fight the blaze. Photo by Jeff Zimmerman
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A Lancaster man who pleaded no contest to arson in the morning was found not guilty in the afternoon by reason of insanity.

David Artiaga, a 27-year-old metal worker, appeared a week ago in San Fernando Superior Court where he entered a no contest plea to the charge of arson, admitting he started fires off of Highway 138 in Neenach in July 2016.

Later that same day, on Oct. 31, Artiaga returned to the same court where he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

“On Oct. 31 he pleaded no contest to the charges and the sanity phase began,” Ricardo Santiago, spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office told The Signal Monday.

“During the sanity hearing the judge determined that the defendant was not sane at the time of committing the crimes,” he said.

Artiaga was scheduled to appear back in court in a couple of weeks “to determine a suitable place to house him,” he said.

Santiago explained the court proceedings this way: “First phase dealt with guilt. Second phase on sanity.”

“When a defendant pleads not guilty by reason of insanity the criminal proceedings have two different phases,” Santiago explained.

“First phase was to be a trial or a plea – in this case a plea,” he said. “The second phase was to determine the defendant’s sanity at the time of the crime.”

Criminal proceedings against Artiaga were suspended in September, 2016, pending a review of his mental health, Santiago said a year ago.

“He originally pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. That starts the process for the case to have a phase to determine guilt and a phase to determine sanity at the time of the crime,” Santiago explained.

Artiaga was, subsequently, found to be fit for trial and in June, entered a plea of not guilty.

On July 19, 2016, small brush fires broke out in the 2600 block of 269th Street near Highway 138 in Neenach, Los Angeles County Fire Department Supervisor Miguel Ornelas said at the time.

Jeff Zimmerman, a photographer who was at the scene, said he saw a man running near the blazes with no shirt on.

The man claimed to have set the fires and was screaming at “the top of his lungs,” Zimmerman told The Signal.

Deputies were called to the scene to help restrain the man, according to a witness, and the suspect was eventually detained.

The fires burned 10 to 15 acres before being doused, Ornelas said.

Zimmerman was acknowledged back in 2016 for his efforts having identified the suspect and presented with awards from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, Supervisor Michael Antonovich’s office and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

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on Twitter @jamesarthurholt

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