DCI fire determined to be arson
A local transient is responsible for the fire that destroyed the headquarters of a local dental manufacturing company in early April, losing his life in the process.
The determination that the fire at DCI International was an act of arson was revealed Thursday following a nearly three-week investigation by Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and the Newberg-Dundee Police Department.
The remains of Ricardo Cornejo Garcia, 46, were found inside the massive building at 305 N. Springbrook Road during the investigation.
"The structure is believed to have been selected at random by Garcia, who was suffering from issues of mental health, intoxication or a combination of both," a release from the agencies said.
The investigation resulted in a timeline: At roughly 2 a.m. on April 10 the NDPD's dispatch center received a 911 call "from a male stating they were having a medical issue and claimed to be at the garden center of Fred Meyer in Newberg," the release said. The store's garden center is not open during those hours.
"EMS was dispatched, but when the male made unusual statements (during the call) about 'vampires being after him,' police officers were also dispatched due to the suspicious circumstances of the call," the release said. "The male caller then told the call taker that he was 'going to start a fire."
Finding no one at the scene, the officers instead spotted smoke emanating from across Springbrook Road at DCI headquarters.
"Officers then discovered the DCI building was on fire and summoned fire personnel from (TVF&R) as officers continued to search for the male who initiated the call," the release continued.
When crews from TVF&R, and eventually other jurisdictions, arrived on the scene the building was fully engulfed in flames, which prevented fire and police personnel from entering the premises and searching for Garcia. The investigation was delayed for several days due to the instability of the wood beam and steel structure, formerly owned by nearby PGE and housing both administrative and warehouse spaces for the company.
As fire personnel waited for the building to be made safe for entry, the NDPD began a criminal investigation.
"It was determined the name originally given by the suspicious caller to be an alias for a wanted subject named Ricardo Garcia," the release said, adding that NDPD officers were familiar with Garcia, which allowed them to trace his recent appearances at Providence Newberg Medical Center and a YCAP shelter in Newberg. "Recent video footage of Garcia closely matched footage of a subject near the DCI building prior to the fire, making Garcia a person of interest for the crime."
Once investigators could safely enter the building they found a deceased man's remains in the rubble. Through medical records and contact with family, the remains were identified as Garcia. It was determined that he died of smoke inhalation.
The investigation surmised that Garcia, while experiencing a mental health crisis, "may have perceived that he was at the Fred Meyer garden center, prompting him to give the wrong location during his initial call," the release said. "He then forced his way into the DCI building and for unknown reasons chose to set the building on fire from the inside, resulting in the total loss of the 33,000-square-foot structure and his own death."
TVF&R and NDPD officials bemoaned the loss of the man's life and saw it as a cautionary tale.
"This case can only be summarized as an unfortunate tragedy, stemming from the underlying behavioral health issues affecting so many Oregonians every day," they said in the release. "Our thoughts go out to the family of Mr. Garcia and to all the people negatively impacted at the DCI company."
The steel- and timber-constructed building, one of 10 in the company, was deemed a total loss and damage estimates were set at between $5 million and $7 million. Fire crews numbering more than 60 were dispatched to the fire and were aided by personnel from the Yamhill County Sheriff's Office, Newberg public works, PGE, NW Natural and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
"It's a heartbreaking loss for the company, for the employees and for the community," said Casey Kulla, who joined his fellow Yamhill County commissioners in touring the site a week after the fire. "This was the most striking large structure fire I've stood next to."
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