By Alana Bleimann
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco County Superior Judge Stephen M. Murphy and the jury here heard the long, four-hour testimony Tuesday from a San Francisco fire investigator who witnessed and responded to the victim’s home after Erbert Mayek allegedly set a fire and fled the scene in early September of 2019.
Mayek is charged with one count of felony arson—the prosecution claims he started a fire in the victim’s underground garbage chute.
The fire investigator spent the morning proving that the garbage chute was the location of where the fire started, and that it was caused by multiple questionable items at the base of the garbage chute.
Arriving at the scene at 4:15 a.m. the fire investigator testified that he walked through the house to gain a better understanding of the location of the source and cause of the fire. He stated that, on initial entry, he could tell that the home “was fully furnished” and “appeared occupied, but vacant.”
Taped to the front gate were two brown paper bags which “was strange to me,” the investigator said.
The prosecution noted the importance of these strange bags, but never brought them up in questioning again.
Upon finding the home’s garbage chute on the first floor of the bottom level, the investigator noted its importance as there was significant oxidation and signs of vertical fire damage. He said he “stuck his head in” the garbage chute to look for any kinds of obstructions, which is when he noticed the clear fire damage.
At this point, the investigator said was able to eliminate the home’s electrical system as being the source of the fire.
The investigator stated that he was on the scene for 1 hour and 45 minutes, and by the time he left he was able to conclude that the fire originated at the base of the garbage chute, but he still did not know the cause of the fire.
The prosecution proceeded to pull out a large TV and explain that the jury would now be watching two to three minutes of security footage from the next door neighbor’s cameras that showed a man (allegedly Mayek) climbing the house’s fence and running across the lawn and out of view, for less than five minutes.
Only moments later did the fire investigator point out a bright spark and then the same man came back into view, running away from the spark and hopping back over the fence from which he came.
“Beyond the wall you can see active fire,” the investigator explained to the jury.
One can also see the man putting something in his pocket, which was allegedly a glass bottle, according to the investigator.
Here, Assistant Public Defender Martina Avalos objected to the statements made, as it is hard to see the spark within the one second video footage period.
Judge Murphy overruled the objection and allowed the prosecutor to continue his line of questioning.
The prosecution used this footage in an attempt to show Mayek was the one who started the fire after the investigator described an ATM receipt he was shown from Officer Peele with the defendant’s name on it.
At this point, the prosecution again asked the investigator how he knew where and what caused the fire.
He explained that at the base of the garbage chute, there were two pieces of “dimensional lumber…saw and wood…a burned and melted piece of fabric.”
Importantly, he also described finding a glass bottle in the chute, which he thought was used in addition with the pieces of fabric as a type of arson-starter.
“This video confirmed my origin” that the fire was an intentional one, not an accidental one, and also “depicts the cause of the fire,” the investigator stated.
“I don’t want to waste our time with origin,” she began, clearly upset with the amount of time it took the prosecution to finish his line of questioning.
PD Avalos explained how the investigator spoke to the chief of police regarding the possibility of the origin of the fire. These questionable actions could have influenced his decision making, proving to the jury bias in this case, she suggested.
She also detailed how there was a sign on the front of the house that proved someone living there was upset with the accused.
The investigator did confirm that “someone was angry” with Mayek, as the sign was covered in swear words and other foul language.
“There was someone on the property who wasn’t supposed to be there,” he claimed.
Avalos went on to ask the investigator about his methods of finding a solution and cause of a fire, for which he described his usage of the scientific method, but PD Avalos claimed that he is “missing a few steps,” according to the official handbook used by people in his profession.