Truck arson probed
Arson to a pickup truck – the crime that precipitated last month’s fatal shooting of Ezra Clow by a sheriff’s detective – remains under investigation.
But the probe has come to scrutinize statements by a witness to the shooting, Peter Paulus, and his friend, Charlie Burr, a deputy’s son who was seriously burned by flames that destroyed the truck on the Greenhorn Creek bed, according to documents filed in Nevada County Superior Court.
The claims are made in a search warrant affidavit filed by Fire Capt. Specialist Fred Lopez of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“Charlie Burr’s burns are not consistent with the story he provided while receiving the burns,” Lopez wrote in the affidavit, which sought Burr’s medical records from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and the University of California at Davis Medical Center.
Lopez eventually received records from both hospitals.
He also claimed finding inconsistencies in statements by Paulus.
In response, an irritated-sounding Paulus said, “I disagree with a lot of things being said in there.”
His father, Steve Paulus, accused the investigator of reaching unfounded conclusions. Steve Paulus also claimed hearing that three kids bragged about torching the truck, but had alibis.
“A lot of it is wrong,” he said of the affidavit. “I personally feel it was twisted with the intent of getting a search warrant.”
No charges have been filed in the case, and District Attorney Mike Ferguson said Friday he wasn’t sure if his office has received CDF’s reports. CDF Battalion Chief Jim Hoffmier said last week his agency’s report might be submitted to the DA this week. He couldn’t be reached Friday.
The arson is seen as the first in a series of events that led to Clow’s shooting by Sheriff’s Detective Don Clark on June 26 at Pine Grove Cemetery east of Nevada City.
Clow, 26, had gone to meet Peter Paulus, 21, about returning compact discs and a checkbook that had been in the vehicle.
Unbeknownst to Clow, Clark, who was investigating the arson, went with Paulus. Clow was killed after a confrontation with Clark, and the shooting was ruled justifiable self-defense by Ferguson.
The arson occurred three days earlier on the Greenhorn Creek bed, where Burr, the 21-year-old son of Deputy Andy Burr, was seriously injured in the fire. He has since been released from the hospital.
Peter Paulus said the truck broke down in the early morning hours of June 23. They called Burr’s girlfriend on a cell phone for a ride, and then retrieved Burr’s truck.
When they returned, the truck was on fire.
From there, what CDF surmises and what Paulus and Burr say happened splits.
Burr, who has since been released from the hospital, said he reached though the broken passenger window to unlock the door with his left hand while simultaneously opening the door with his right hand, Lopez reported.
Burr was “flashed by fire” after opening the door and was burned on his face, ears and head, Lopez wrote, adding the burns were inconsistent with Burr’s described posture.
Further, Lopez wrote, “The burns are indicative of someone who ignited a flammable atmosphere.”
Lopez claimed Paulus said he was in front of the truck at the time, only saw Burr on the ground already burned, and didn’t see or hear the flash.
“Paulus’ lack of recollection is not consistent with someone in the proximity of Charlie Burr being burned to the extent of his burns,” Lopez wrote.
In response, Steve Paulus said his son did claim seeing and hearing the flash. Further, he added, he later saw the truck and thought Burr’s account was consistent with the damage.
CDF has interviewed more than 35 witnesses in the case.
One of them, Melissa Ratel, reported seeing a can of gas and flares in the back of the pickup before it burned, according to the affidavit.
Peter Paulus said he doesn’t know Ratel and doesn’t recall hearing her name. Efforts to reach Ratel on Friday were unsuccessful.
Paulus also didn’t know Clark before the investigation, he said, adding that he didn’t understand why the Sheriff’s Office initially handled the case before CDF took over.
It’s unclear if Clark went to the cemetery knowing a deputy’s son had been hurt in the fire. Ferguson and Sheriff Keith Royal said Friday they didn’t know what Clark knew.
Clow’s father, Ronald Clow, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. His family is holding a memorial for his son today at Pioneer Park in Nevada City.
Meanwhile, Royal said a report on Clow’s toxicology will be released Monday. Figures he released Friday indicated Clow had methamphetamine in his system.
The Story So Far
June 23: A 1998 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck is set on fire two hours after it breaks down in the Greenhorn Creek bed, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
The truck owner’s son, Peter Paulus, is at the scene when his friend, Charlie Burr, suffers first- and second-degree burns to his face, ears and right arm, CDF reports.
June 26: Ezra Clow meets Paulus at Pine Grove Cemetery regarding compact discs and a checkbook belonging to Paulus that Clow “reportedly” found nearby, according to CDF. Det. Don Clark, who is investigating the arson, is also there. During a confrontation, Clark fatally shoots Clow.
June 27: A CDF investigator examines the truck and concludes the fire was intentionally set.
– Doug Mattson
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