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Charges filed against burglary suspect linked to 2 Grass Valley business fires

Prosecutors have filed charges against a man accused of burglarizing numerous Grass Valley businesses, as well as starting a fire that destroyed the facilities of two private health care practices, purportedly costing business owners hundreds of thousands worth in damages.

Christopher Norman Rex, 35, is being charged with arson, three counts of first-degree burglary, and one count of attempted second-degree burglary, per court documents filed by the District Attorney’s Office. All of the charges against Rex are felonies.

Sometime before 6 a.m. Aug. 24, Rex broke into several different Grass Valley businesses, all except one of which were private health care practices, prosecutors allege. Rex apparently stole cash, laptops, and miscellaneous office equipment from some of the health care clinics, before allegedly starting a fire at 123 Margaret Lane that totally destroyed the two-story building.



Investigators do not yet know whether Rex intentionally started the blaze, the District Attorney’s Office said.

Dr. Jay Patt, a chiropractor who ran his clinic from an office space on the second floor of the building, estimated that his business suffered $100,000 in damages as a result of the fire, and said that the exterior of the building would likely cost around $500,000 in repairs. Likewise, Dr. Kenan Runte, a specialist with the Foothill Podiatry Clinic formerly located on the first floor, below Dr. Patt’s practice, estimated that the damages to the interior of his clinic would total at least $100,000.



Both doctors described a chaotic scene the morning of the incident.

“…I got a call from (my wife) Laura at 6:20 a.m…I was shocked when she told me that our office was on fire,” Patt said. “Twelve minutes later I arrived at the scene, witnessing firefighters shooting water into the attic, trying to put out the fire in our office.”

Runte recalled feelings of shock and horror when he arrived at the building after hearing about the fire, finding his practice almost completely destroyed.

“I got a text around 6 a.m. from somebody who used to work there, and he said you should go to your office it might be on fire…I get there at 7 and it’s just totaled, smoke coming out both ends, I’m just standing there in shock,” he said.

‘OVERWHELMING SUPPORT’

In addition to the two clinics destroyed in the fire, several other businesses were also burglarized by Rex on Aug. 24, prosecutors said. A&A Physical Therapy, Valley Foot and Ankle Specialists, and Eye To Eye Optometric were all identified as having been targeted by the break-ins, court documents show. Representatives from each of these clinics all separately confirmed that they were broken into, reporting varying degrees of damages.

An administrative building belonging to Fat and the Moon, a local business specializing in plant-based body care products, was also broken into, according to the District Attorney’s Office. The owners of Fat and the Moon could not be reached for comment.

Outside of Patt and Runte’s practices, none of the other businesses that Rex purportedly broke into reported anything of significant value having been stolen. Dr. Justin Rivera with Valley Foot and Ankle Specialists said that the suspect had broken some windows and doors at his practice, costing around $3,000.

Patt and Runte both expressed that while the damages caused by the fire to their practices was devastating, they were encouraged by the overwhelming support that they’ve received from the community. Runte said that a professional acquaintance and friend of his, Dr. Stephen Waterbrook, allowed Foothill Podiatry Clinic to move its operations into an empty office space that Waterbrook owns.

“Just an hour after I saw the building on fire, (Waterbrook) comes up to me and puts his hand out and gives me the key and says, ‘here, take this’…come to find out he has an office he’d just acquired and he told me use it as long as you need…he was just totally cool about it,” Runte said.

Foothill Podiatry Clinic has since moved all of its personnel and surviving equipment to the new location — 152 Catherine Lane Suite No. F — and will conduct business there until further notice, the doctor added.

In a statement, Patt and his wife Laura (who helps run the clinic) thanked Dr. Jeff Rosenberg with Dignity Health, and Kimberly Parker, with the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation, both of whom the Patts said gave “generous financial gifts” to assist the couple as they recover from the disaster. The pair also praised the response of firefighters to the scene as well as the efforts of police in apprehending the suspect.

“Most of our precious tools were saved and their quick action now allows us to move to our new office and work effectively right away,” the couple said regarding the efforts of the numerous fire agencies that responded, including the Grass Valley Fire Department and Cal Fire.

Their clinic will have a new, temporary location at 565 Brunswick Road, Unit No. 1, until the building at Margaret Lane is repaired, which is expected to take approximately 12 months, the Patts said.

Rex remained held Wednesday at the Nevada County Jail on a $700,000 bond, and his next court appearance will be a plea entry hearing on Thursday, records show.

Stephen Wyer is a staff writer with The Union. He can be reached at swyer@theunion.com

Christopher Norman Rex
COMPLETE STATEMENT

One of the reasons my family of four children and my wife moved to Nevada County in 1992 was that we felt that there was a strong sense of community here. When I went into a store, the clerk would look me in the eye and ask if they could serve me. When I went to the post office, the attendant asked me how my day was, even though I was a complete stranger. I had been used to the cold atmosphere of a big city and wanted something different. In Nevada County, we found something very different. We found a warm, friendly, and welcoming atmosphere that we have become so grateful for.

Well, disaster hit us, and it became crystal clear how wonderful it was that we moved here. Fire finally got to us, but not in the way we thought it would. My wife, Laura, and I live in Nevada County amid beautiful woods, always worrying in the late summer if our house would be in danger of fire. Our chiropractic office is in Grass Valley, next to the hospital. That’s why I kept my back up picture files there since I believed it to be a relatively low fire risk.

But when I got a call from Laura at 6:20 am on Tuesday, August 24, I was shocked when she told me that our office was on fire. Twelve minutes later I arrived at the scene, witnessing fire fighters shooting water into the attic trying to put out the fire in our office. I was greeted by Captain Rob Rothenberger of the Ophir Hill Fire Department, who described the situation to us and kept us informed.

My wife and I have much thanks to express. We would like to thank the Grass Valley Fire Department, Nevada County Consolidated Fire Department, Ophir Hill Fire Department, CalbFire and the Nevada City Fire Department who responded to the scene very quickly and put the fire out, limiting the damage to partial destruction of our office with the ability to rebuild. Most of our precious tools were saved and their quick action now allows us to move to our new office and work effectively right away. Thanks also to Grass Valley Police Department who were able to secure our premises and apprehend the person suspected of starting the fire.

Thanks so much to Dr. Jeff Rosenberg, Chief Medical Officer at Dignity Health, and Kimberly Parker, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation, for a generous financial gift to help us in a time of crisis. My wife and I have been really touched by their giving.

Thanks also to our friends, patients, and business associates who reached out to us, offering help: Jeff Hanson and Joni Raymond from Hanson Bros, Carrie Worthington and Spike Newby from Robinsons Enterprises and Kari D’Aloisio from Hills Flat; Jon Ryan from Ernie’s Van & Storage who came right over and moved treatment tables to a temporary location; Dr. Winni Loesch, Walt Abby from A&A Physical Therapy and Ingo Zirpins from Fit for Life Physical Therapy who offered us places to see patients; Curt Brenner and Michele Brady who provided help and moral support. We would especially like to thank Dr. Andrew Thomas who allowed us to set up in his office and gave us a temporary home to continue to see patients. We are now able to move to a new office, our new home for the next 12 months, as it will take that much time to repair our building.

Laura and I would also like to thank our associate, Dr. Gabriel Russo, and office manager, Raquel Lopez, for their tireless help, support and cheerfulness.

We are so grateful for all the sympathy and well wishes that we have gotten from our community. You have touched our hearts deeply and we are so grateful.

Jay and Laura Patt


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