On Twitter: Reporter Lori Fowler is tweeting live from the trial @IEcourtsNow
Catch up: Prosecution opens its case against alleged Old Fire arsonist
SAN BERNARDINO - Charles Cunningham had lived in the Del Rosa area of the city, below the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, since 1964 - until his home was ravaged by the 2003 Old Fire and he died of a heart attack.
Cunningham was one of five victims whose deaths were attributed to the Old Fire, which ignited in Old Waterman Canyon and burned more than 91,000 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 structures and cost nearly $38 million, officials said.
The accused arsonist, Rickie Lee Fowler, was present in San Bernardino Superior Court on Tuesday - the second day of trial - where friends of the victims talked about their loved ones.
"He was a dynamic man," said David Baldwin, speaking of 93-year-old Cunningham. "He didn't need to die."
Fowler, 30, of San Bernardino, has been charged with five counts of murder and special circumstances, which allow prosecutors to pursue the death penalty if he is convicted. Prosecutors say residents in burn areas died from heart attacks that were caused by the stress of evacuation and threats to homes and belongings.
The other victims were James McDermith, Chad Williams, Ralph McWilliams and Robert Taylor.
While on the stand Tuesday, Baldwin talked about the impact the fire had on his friend and neighbor of 23 years.
"Charlie's house had burned to the ground," Baldwin told Supervising Deputy District Attorney Robert Bulloch. "It was just smoldering embers."
"Everything that that man owned was a total loss."
Cunningham did not have any known health issues prior to the fire, Baldwin said.
Friends and family members of the three other victims are expected to testify today.
The fire's point of origin was up a hillside off Old Waterman Canyon Road, said Brad Burns, a law enforcement officer for the U.S. Forest Service and an initial responder to the Old Fire. The cause of the fire was arson, investigators determined.
"We eliminated all other causes," he said on the witness stand. "We could not find signs of campfire, or signs of railroad, or signs of electrical lines."
A tree trimmer also testified Tuesday, saying he saw the Old Fire ignite.
On Oct. 25, 2003, Gabriel Padilla was on a mountain road turnout, overlooking the canyon, when he noticed a van. He said he saw a man get out of the van, make a throwing motion, then get back in the vehicle.
The van drove away, and Padilla said he saw flames.
Acting on Padilla's reported information, San Bernardino County Sheriff Sgt. Joe Palomino responded to the area to look for evidence.
Palomino testified on Tuesday that he later found what appeared to be remnants of a road flare.
"The whole area was burned out, either black or ashy, and this stood out," he said about a white, chalky substance. "It caught my attention right away."