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New court documents establish timeline and suspects for COS arson string

Tulare+County+Superior+Court%2C+location+of+Josiah+Banks%27+forthcoming+preliminary+hearing.
Tulare County Superior Court, location of Josiah Banks' forthcoming preliminary hearing.

Tulare County Superior Court, location of Josiah Banks' forthcoming preliminary hearing.

Paul Lewis

Paul Lewis

Tulare County Superior Court, location of Josiah Banks' forthcoming preliminary hearing.

Paul Lewis, Editor in chief

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Recently released court documents have solidified the timeline of the arson string on the College of the Sequioas campus.

The initial suspect Christian Cervantes, a music student at CoS, was arrested after police followed up on a witness’ report. Officer Shane Hettick met with and interviewed the witness, who remains confidential. The witness saw a male matching Cervantes’ description who appeared to be acting suspicious in the vicinity of a restroom in which a fire was later found.

Hettick tracked down Cervantes outside of the Hospital Rock building on the CoS campus. After questioning Cervantes and discovering his lighter the officer detained and later arrested him. During the officer’s questioning Cervantes became “Very weak and started wobbling on his feet,” according to Hettick. After confirming that Cervantes did not require medical attention Hettick brought him inside and gave him a bottle of water.

Cervantes gave his account of the day and asserted his innocence throughout. Cervantes was later released after the main suspect was arrested.

The court documents also provided additional information on the main suspect Josiah Banks, including his background and account of events.

According to court documents Josiah banks, a 20 year old resident of Tulare, was charged with 5 counts of “recklessly causing a fire of a structure or forest,” an offense considered a felony. Banks was previously involved with two fires in the city of Tulare, both of which have been ruled accidental.

Additionally the documents indicated that Banks utilized the Access and Ability Center on the CoS campus. The Access and Ability center provides support for students with physical and mental disabilities that impact their ability to succeed in class.

The documents went on to outline the events that transpired around Banks arrest.

On the second day of the arson string, August 21st, two corroborating suspect descriptions were received by the campus police. The descriptions were of a tall male with a Captain America backpack carrying an instrument case.

Chief Mizner and Officer Hettick responded to the eye witness accounts and investigated the area where the suspect was seen. While on scene the officers spotted the suspect and asked to talk to him.

As Mizner and Hettick walked the suspect inside in order to interview him Sandra Calderon, director of the CoS Access and Ability center, stopped the officers and informed him that the suspect was a client of hers. Calderon asked the officers for permission to sit in on the interview of the subject to which the officers agreed.

The suspect was later identified as Josiah Banks, a 20 year old CoS student from Tulare.

At the start of the interview Banks asserted his innocence and claimed the reason he was spotted near the fires was his following of the true culprit. Banks gave an outline of his pursuit and was asked for a description of the individual he was following. Banks struggled to provide a description, but stated that he thought the subject was possibly a shorter Hispanic male.

Hettick asked Banks if writing down the description might help, which Banks agreed to.

While Banks wrote down the description Calderon pulled the officers aside and asked to talk with Banks in private. Mizner agreed to her request and both officers left the room.

Several minutes later Calderon asked the officers to come back in as Banks was claiming responsibility for the two fires this morning.

Mizner continued the interview and Banks confessed to committing all 11 fires on campus claiming he used a lighter which he had stored in a compartment created by a tear in his backpack. Upon searching the compartment the officers discovered two lighters.

Shortly afterwards the officers transported Banks to the CoS police department for further questioning.

After being read his Miranda rights Banks walked the officers through the events of the past two days. Banks description of events made the method of fire clear.

Banks had been piling up toilet paper and paper towels around the bathrooms and ignited by his lighters. During the course of the fires being set Banks ate lunch and was interrupted during one of his fires by a witness.

After the conclusion of the interview the officers confiscated Banks’ lighters and backpack as evidence.

On the 23rd of August Banks attended an arraignment for his alleged crimes in the superior court of Tulare county, during which he entered a plea of innocent to the five counts of arson. A preliminary hearing, wherein the prosecutor must demonstrate that enough evidence exists to bring a charge against the defendant, has been scheduled for the fifth of November.

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New court documents establish timeline and suspects for COS arson string