A 41-year-old transient woman pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges of setting two fires in Santa Ana stores to cover her tracks as she fled the businesses with stolen goods.
Erika Rubi Hernandez Valeriano is charged with two felony counts of arson of an inhabited structure. Her bail was set at $150,000 as she was ordered to return to court June 17.
Valeriano is accused of setting blazes at a Walmart at 3600 W. McFadden Ave. on Oct. 4 and at the El Super grocery store at 2445 S. Bristol St. on May 30.
On both occasions investigators say more than 50 patrons were in the store at the time the fires were set.
“She set these fires to use as a distraction to push carts full of items out the doors during the chaos caused by the fires,” investigators reported in a court document arguing for an enhanced bail.
The defendant was also accused of using multiple aliases and dates of birth “to avoid getting into further trouble, or being detected for prior offenses,” investigators said.
“In a recent car stop, she used a different name to avoid detection on an active DUI warrant,” investigators said in the court filing.
Most recently, Valeriano was living out of a shelter in Irvine.
News reports about the Walmart arson prompted a valuable tip that led to the defendant’s arrest, according to Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Larry Kurtz.
“The media putting out that video was key to getting a tip that turned out to be key,” Kurtz said.
— City News Service
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: