Arson case to end without prison time |

Arson case to end without prison time

A man accused of burglary as well as starting a fire that destroyed a Nevada City residence earlier this year is not expected to face prison time after reaching a negotiated resolution in the case with prosecutors.

Nathan Tomlinson, 33, was arrested in January on charges of arson, burglary, and trespassing, all in connection with accusations that he started a fire at 414 Broad St. that left the historic property a total loss, investigators say.

On Tuesday, the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office formally withdrew its opposition to a motion filed in the case by the county Public Defender’s Office, which represents him. According to District Attorney Jesse Wilson, that motion, which is now expected to be formally approved in court next month, would allow Tomlinson to enter a mental health pretrial diversion program instead of potentially standing trial in the case.

If convicted on all charges, Tomlinson could have faced over 12 years in prison, Wilson said.

While the District Attorney’s Office initially opposed the motion, prosecutors handling the case ultimately changed their minds after substantial evidence was presented as to the seriousness of the defendant’s condition, Wilson said in a statement.

“Our office initially opposed (the) diversion, but after reviewing the case, the medical reports, speaking with defense, and listening to the defendant’s parents … (prosecutors) withdrew the opposition and we believe … diversion is in the best interest of defendant’s rehabilitation and in the best interest of community safety,” he said.

Wilson said that Tomlinson is a U.S. military veteran of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, adding that the defendant’s mental health issues appeared to have been further exacerbated by substance abuse addictions that Tomlison developed shortly after being discharged from military service.

“When he returned home, he almost immediately began exhibiting signs of mental health issues,” Wilson said. “He would abuse substances and self-medicate, which in turn ultimately led to this case.”

Tomlinson, who investigators say was homeless at the time of the incident, was arrested Jan. 27 — the same day that the Broad Street home went up in flames.


While not found at the scene of the blaze, Tomlinson was later apprehended at a nearby business after police heard from several witnesses who connected him to the incident.

Investigators believe that Tomlinson caused the fire by using a “open flame device” in the home, Wilson said.

The badly damaged 414 Broad St. residence was demolished by the city in February. An adjacent commercial building was also damaged during the fire, although a spirited response by firefighters is credited as having saved that structure from further loss.

Prior to the blaze that destroyed the Broad Street home, the residence’s owner, Michael Kent, had pleaded with the Nevada City Planning Commission to give him a permit that would have allowed him to have had the home demolished and rebuilt himself.

The Planning Commission’s permission for such an action was needed, as the property was considered historic, having been built in 1880.

Kent had warned city officials that he believed that the house was in poor structural condition and was at risk of being destroyed through fire or some other catastrophe due to its dilapidated state.

“The danger of this building either collapsing or inadvertently being caught on fire and causing a major issue in the downtown area — it’s real,” the homeowner told the Planning Commission just several months before the January fire took place.

“I believe it will end in some type of tragedy if that property is not somehow demolished and rebuilt and taken care of, because it is in very bad and dangerous conditions,” Kent had said.

Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at

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