The following is a press release issued by the Mendocino County District Attorney:
Two defendants convicted of slightly different fire-related felonies — both involving the setting of fires which created the potential for harm to the community — received the same outcome Friday morning in the Mendocino County Superior Court. Both were ultimately sentenced to state prison for 60 months.
Defendant Tasha Marie Ornelas, age 35, an unsheltered individual generally living in and around Ukiah, stands convicted by plea of felony arson of grasslands, as well as a sentencing enhancement that her fire activities occurred during a statewide state of emergency as declared by the Governor. The maximum state prison sentence the defendant could have received was nine years.
Defendant Ornelas misconduct involved setting and attempting to set multiple fires back on June 23rd at approximately 2:30 p.m. in a lot located at the corner of South State Street and Observatory Avenue.
Ornelas claimed she had slept in the lot and, while doing so, lost a belly button ring. With the dry grass as an obstacle to her visual search, she decided to burn the dry grass away. A concerned citizen, smelling smoke and seeing suspicious activity by the defendant, called in for the fire and police authorities to quickly come to investigate.
While Ornelas reported during the investigation that she had consumed only a half a beer on the day in question, she blew a blood alcohol result of .117.
Defendant Michelle Stephanie Perry, age 28, another unsheltered individual generally living in and around Ukiah, stands convicted by plea of recklessly causing a fire of inhabited property, a felony, as well as a sentencing enhancement that her fire activities occurred during a statewide state of emergency as declared by the Governor. The maximum state prison sentence the defendant could have received was seven years.
Defendant Perry’s misconduct involved the defendant using hand sanitizer as an accelerant to ignite a fire at Unity Hall on Seminary Avenue. A planter box was set afire and, as the flames grew, the fire scorched the steps and charred the door frame before the fire was extinguished by concerned citizens with fire extinguishers.
The defendant told a Ukiah Police officer that she was upset with the people at one of five commercial spaces, along with two rooftop apartments, located in a single property located near Unity Hall.
The defendant, in part, also told the Court Friday morning that she had smoked some methamphetamine prior to setting the fire and the small quantity of meth “just set me off.”
The law enforcement and fire agencies involved in both of the above cases were the Ukiah Police Department and the Ukiah Valley Fire Authority.
Special thanks is extended to Battalion Chief Justin Buckingham for his specialized cause-of-fire investigation work.
The prosecutor who handled both cases from arraignment through sentencing was District Attorney David Eyster.
Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Carly Dolan presided over the judicial proceedings held on both cases.