A transient who caused the 2013 Silver fire south of Banning that destroyed 26 homes and injured 12 firefighters pleaded guilty on Wednesday, Jan. 17, and was immediately sentenced to 16 years in state prison.
Stephen Patrick Medlock, 58, then received about six years credit for time served that under California law was automatically doubled to slightly less than 12 years. The plea agreement was negotiated with the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, said John Hall, a DA’s spokesman.
Under Wednesday’s plea in Superior Court in Banning, 22 counts of intentional arson of a structure or forest land, and 15 counts of intentional arson of an inhabited dwelling were dismissed. In their place, Medlock admitted to 14 counts of reckless burning of an inhabited dwelling. He faced “way significantly more” than 16 years if convicted of all charges, said his attorney, Skip Feild.
Feild said that on Aug. 7, 2013, Medlock was using a handheld lighter that had been modified to keep the flame continuously lit when he burned himself and in response dropped the lighter in the brush, sparking the fire. Prosecutors contended that he intentionally set the blaze. Medlock was charged in 2016 but wasn’t located and arrested until 2018.
“It’s been our stance from the beginning that it was a reckless situation where it was an accident. I think it was a very fair disposition. He’s taking personal responsibility,” said Feild, who credited Deputy District Attorney Justin Kim with being agreeable to the plea.
Feild had previously petitioned to transfer the case to mental health court, where Medlock, who was examined by a court-appointed psychiatrist, could have been sentenced to probation if he pleaded guilty and completed a treatment program. However, the judge ruled that state law does not allow probation in cases of intentional arson.
The fire burned 20,292 acres in Poppet Flats near Highway 243 over six days. Thirteen people were injured, including 12 firefighters and one mountain biker. In all, 60 structures were destroyed, Cal Fire said.