Suspect allegedly broke into Santa Maria Court Complex, started fire that caused almost $750,000 in damage
Santa Maria police arrested a Nipomo man for allegedly breaking into the Santa Maria Court Complex, forcing his way into a courtroom and starting a fire which set off water sprinklers, causing close to $750,000 damage to furniture, wall paneling, carpeting and court files, officials said.
“The courtroom will be offline for about a year,” Court Executive Officer Darrel Parker told the News-Press on Monday.
All the carpet, non-fixed furniture and cabinetry have to be removed, including wood paneling on the walls and public seating in the audience. The water damage also went underneath the judge’s bench.
He said they were waiting for storage units to be brought on site Monday afternoon to receive everything that was damaged.
“The extent of damage is more than we originally knew,” he said. The original estimate was $500,000, but it could cost another $200,000 worth of work to restore damaged court records.
“Files in the basement were compromised,” he said. “They’re wet but there’s no mold on them yet. A preservation company is coming in to freeze dry the documents and make digital images of them before they deteriorate. It’s happening now. The crew is coming in today.”
“We’re probably at three quarters of a million dollars,” he said.
The water abatement/restoration company was on site Monday to continue the clean-up process, Mr. Parker said, adding that the court’s maintenance guy has already fixed the damaged courtroom doors.
“They have to dry everything out, and figure out how much more they have to demolish before they can restore it,” he said. “It’s going to be a long process, and I’m sure there will be some hiccups along the way.”
Because of a judicial vacancy, Department 1 will be available for cases normally heard by Judge Patricia Kelly in Department 8, the courtroom Mr. Parker now describes as a “total loss.”
The incident began when the suspect, Eric Spies, 31, allegedly went to the court complex Saturday night, ignored a security guard’s order to leave and broke two glass doors to gain entry into the criminal court building, Mr. Parker said.
Once inside, he allegedly forced his way into the Department 8 courtroom, pulling the doors so hard that he actually broke the wood frames on the top of the doors, Mr. Parker said.
Mr. Spies then allegedly started a fire on the defense counsel’s chair, which spread to the table and carpet. Mr. Parker said the fire was so hot that it melted the lights in the ceiling and caused the sprinklers to come on.
He said the sprinklers extinguished the fire, but it took so much water that it pretty much destroyed the courtroom. He said the water was 2 inches deep at some points.
Water also infiltrated the courtroom’s adjacent holding cells, but spared the judge’s chambers and court clerk offices, Mr. Parker said.
Santa Maria police and firefighters were dispatched to the scene shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday.
Police arrested Mr. Spies and booked him into the Northern Branch Jail, with bail set at $75,000.
According to Mr. Parker, the incident began after Mr. Spies received a notice about an upcoming hearing and went to the court complex to see where he had to show up next month on another criminal matter.
“I don’t know his motivation but he told the security guard he wanted to see where to report to court in March,” Mr. Parker said.
The charge? “Vandalism.”