A father-son duo accused of running an illegal marijuana extraction operation inside their Indio home, sparking a fire that led to a explosion that injured several firefighters, must stand trial on multiple felony charges, a judge ruled Thursday.
Javriel Rodriguez Ochoa, 61, and Alexander Samuel Ochoa, 32, are suspected of operating a honey oil laboratory inside their home at 83141 Long Cove Drive, which allegedly blew up in September 2019.
Following a preliminary hearing at the Larson Justice Center in Indio, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Dean Benjamini found sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for both defendants on four counts of unlawfully causing a fire causing great bodily injury.
They were also held to answer on a felony count of manufacturing a controlled substance and a misdemeanor charge of possessing marijuana for sale.
A felony animal cruelty charge filed because six birds were allegedly killed inside the home due to the blaze was dismissed for both defendants.
Both men remain out of custody on $50,000 bond. A post-preliminary hearing arraignment is scheduled for July 27
According to Cal Fire Capt. Kelly Becker, firefighters were sent to the Long Cove Drive address on Sept. 21, 2019, on a house fire call.
During the firefight, an explosion occurred in the garage, with five firefighters being blown from a hallway to the kitchen area.
Becker testified Thursday that the cause of the fire was most likely due to a spark caused by a hot-water heater coming into contact with vaporized ignitable liquids floating around the air. Becker hypothesized that the flames then interacted with multiple 55-gallon drums of flammable solvents inside the garage, causing the explosion.
Riverside County firefighter Travis Ames testified that he was conducting search-and-rescue efforts inside the home when he heard the explosion.
“I saw orange and the next thing I know, I was being drug out the front door,” said Ames, who was transported to an area hospital for treatment of a concussion.
According to a declaration in support of arrest warrant prepared by Becker, three other firefighters suffered second-degree burns, and another suffered first-degree burns to his face and neck. The defendants also suffered minor injuries.
Honey oil, also known as hash oil, is a concentrated substance derived from marijuana plants. The substance is often manufactured using butane, although the Ochoas allegedly used both hexane and ethanol, which are also flammable liquids, in addition to butane. Investigators found all three chemicals at the property, according to Becker.
Following the fire, authorities served a search warrant at the house and discovered 113 pounds of processed honey oil inside a refrigerator along with more than 650 pounds of marijuana trimmings inside trash bags, according to court papers, along with multiple 55-gallon drums of flammable liquid in the backyard, and other barrels — at least one of which was melted — inside the garage.
Following an extensive investigation, the pair were tracked down and arrested over the summer.
Neither defendant has any documented felony convictions in Riverside County.