Top, Kern County?s helicopter 408 making a water drop on the fire in Lockwood Valley Thursday, Oct. 2. Bottom (l-r) A crime scene was taped off for investigation not far from the area where the fire was started in Lockwood Valley. The suspect who allegedly admitted starting the fire said she was trying to signal for help after an assault. She then fled a Safe Harbor facility before an investigation could be completed. Fire crews march into the remote burn area of the ?Strip fire.?
By Gary Meyer
The story of a wildfire in the hills of southern Lockwood Valley, reported at 10:45 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 2, quickly expanded to include a crime-scene where, according to Ventura County Sheriff’s Sr. Deputy Ryan Clark, a sexual assault was reported to have occurred.
Fire Incident Commander John Abell with the U.S. Forest Service told The Mountain Enterprise on Thursday morning that the cause of the fire was unknown. Further discussion with Ventura County Sheriff’s Sr. Deputy Ryan Clark on Sunday, Oct. 5 revealed that the alleged sexual assault victim (whose name cannot be released under department policy) admitted starting the fire.
According to Clark, a vehicle (see bottom left photo at right) found in the course of the firefighting operation belongs to the victim, who told investigators that she started the fire to signal for help after being assaulted.
Clark says Sheriff’s Department bloodhounds could not pick up a scent to track the alleged assault suspect.
The victim, according to Clark, was taken to Ventura County Safe Harbor, a center where victims of sexual assault go for interviews and/or forensic medical exams as part of a criminal investigation.
The victim, Clark said, “became uncooperative and fled the Safe Harbor facility,” before a medical exam could be performed. He says his department will still investigate to try to determine whether an assault had occurred. The victim is, according to Clark, still under investigation by the U.S. Forest Service in relation to the fire.
Clark would only confirm that she is not a resident of the Mountain Communities.
Asked whether it is considered a crime in Ventura County to falsely report a rape, Clark— who has a background in Major Crimes and Sexual Assault and is a member of the California Sexual Assault Investigators Association—said, “It is a crime to falsely report any crime, but the sheriff’s department and the district attorney have a policy of not prosecuting for false rape allegations because,” he said, “there are many instances in which a true rape victim may decide, due to the stress of the situation, to say they lied about it.” He said the county’s position is that it is better to let a few possible false allegations go by in order to protect the real victims.
They may proscecute, however, if a false allegation led to the arrest of an innocent person, Clark said.
The wildfire was contained within a three-acre area about two miles south of Lockwood Valley Road, directly south of the TXI (Pacific Custom Materials) plant.
Helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and ground crews appeared to have the fire under control by 1 p.m. Ventura County’s Helicopter 7 and Kern County’s Helicopter 408 made numerous water drops while fixed-wing aircraft dropped fire retardant.
Sr. Deputy Clark says an earlier report of a body being found at the alleged victim’s vehicle near the fire is unfounded. A body was found later in the day, however, several miles to the east in Chuchupate Campground.
This is part of the October 10, 2008 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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