After he was arrested and charged with arson, Oscar Cruz-Gonzalez told state fire investigator Joel Martin the fire was not accidental and that he was paid $2,000 to start the Main Street Fire.
After he was arrested and charged with arson, Oscar Cruz-Gonzalez told state fire investigator Joel Martin the fire was not accidental and that he was paid $2,000 to start the Main Street Fire.
During last week’s preliminary hearing for arson suspect Oscar Cruz-Gonzalez, a state fire investigator said the Lovelock resident claimed that he was paid $2,000 in cash for starting the Nov. 17, 2019 Main Street Fire that destroyed three downtown Lovelock buildings.

During an interview after his arrest for multiple counts of first-degree arson and conspiracy to commit arson, Cruz-Gonzalez told fire investigator Joel Martin he’d been paid to start the fire. In an earlier interview at the Lovelock Police Department, Cruz denied any involvement in the fire. In a subsequent interview, Cruz-Gonzalez changed his story and told Martin he had “accidentally” started the fire by “flicking a cigarette” and offered to write a letter of apology.

In another subsequent interview with Martin at the county jail, Cruz-Gonzalez changed his story again by describing his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to commit arson.

“Mr. Cruz admitted he was paid $2,000 to start the fire and that he used a book of matches and loose material at the political signs to light the fire at the political signs,” Martin told the court.

Deputy District Attorney Todd Banks asked Martin for further details on the alleged arrangement whereby Cruz-Gonzalez was asked to commit arson by an individual on behalf of “third parties.”

“He explained to me that he had been contacted by Donald Wanner, that they had a conversation outside of a young lady’s house named Heidi Pollard. While they were having a cigarette, he was asked to start a fire at 250 Main Street for $2,000,” Martin said. “He (Cruz) asked why and he was told that it would be for insurance purposes and people would give him money. Mr. Cruz indicated the people that would give money he believed was Todd Plimpton...”

At this point, Martin’s testimony was interrupted by defense attorney David Neidert who objected then immediately withdrew his objection without explanation.

Cruz-Gonzalez described the cash payment during a jailhouse interview conducted by Martin.

“He stated $2,000. He stated it was in cash, mostly hundred dollar bills,” Martin told the court.

Martin showed photos of burn patterns indicating the political sign fire allegedly ignited by Cruz-Gonzalez was the source of the fire that destroyed three buildings in the Main Street Fire.

“I rule, with a level of scientific certainty, that the fire established on political signs progressed into structure one at 250 Main Street then extended into 260 and 230 Main Street,” Martin said. “That sole fire at the pallets is the sole cause for the loss of all three structures.”

Martin said Cruz-Gonzalez confirmed his finding by showing where he started the fire was the same place Martin had pinpointed in his investigation. A Lovelock police video confirmed the fire seemed to start at the pile corrugated plastic campaign signs, owned by Todd Plimpton, at the back of Pershing Pub, also owned by Plimpton.  After the fire spread into the pub, it spread to the Treasures Bookstore, owned by the Murphy family, and to Plimpton’s former law office.

Neidert questioned Martin on his assertion that the fire originated outside the back of the Pershing Pub. Martin said burn patterns indicated the fire’s direction from back to front of the structure. A broken window at the front of the building created a “vent path” that may have accelerated the fire when fire crews opened the back door of the building, Martin explained.

Judge Karen Stephens later determined the case will be bound over from Lake Township Justice Court to the Eleventh District Court due to “slight or marginal”  evidence presented by the prosecution. The amended criminal complaint includes three counts of first degree arson, one count of third degree arson and one count of conspiracy to commit first degree arson. 

Cruz-Gonzalez will be arraigned in district court but the date had not been set as of Friday.