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Cathedral City Arson Suspect Appears in Court

Angela Monroe

Cathedral City Arson Suspect Appears in Court

CREATED Dec. 28, 2011

INDIO - A man accused of starting a fire at a strip mall in Cathedral City said he was not guilty in court.

Eight businesses were destroyed or damaged by the blaze on December 6th. The devastating fire destroyed multiple businesses, caused over a million dollars in damage, and left over one hundred people without a job right before the holidays.

And Wednesday the man police say is responsible for starting the blaze, was in court. Jesus Abel Hernandez stood in court and said not guilty.

But investigators said he confessed to setting the fire in the business for insurance fraud. He worked at La Michoacana Carniceria, one of the buildings burned to the ground, and is a relative of the owner.

"I feel, it's weird, because he was my friend, I feel sad, as a person I feel bad for him," said Enrique Cordoba on December 22nd at Acaplulco Travel.

Hernandez could face 13 years in state prison for arson and burglary charges. "There was a lot of damage done, in this case there were four businesses I believe that were completely destroyed, four more that were damaged, you look at the amount of 1.25 million dollars, that involves a lot of people's property, that involves businesses that is people's livlihood that has been destroyed because of the person in this case," said John Hall with the Riverside County District Attorney's Office.

And other business owners told us that's the worst part of it all--the people who lost their jobs. "You know I don't know what the circumstances are because there's two sides to every story, but people are hurting right now, you know, it's a rough time, our economy is in rough shape right now," said Bonnie Barkley on December 20th, the owner of Cello's Bistro.

"All those families that were around, you've got to think about families, a lot of people ar ein the middle of this, its just atrocity," said Jose Dorderte on December 20th, owner of Aladino's Fashion.

The strip mall owner also told us they are trying to work quickly to get those businesses back open to get people back to work.

If you're interested in helping the victims you can drop off donations at the US Bank in Cathedral City. Make checks made out to "Date Palm Fire Victims."