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Suspect in Arson Blaze Is Cypress' Police Chief's Son

September 20, 1987|DOUG BROWN | Times Staff Writer

The 19-year-old man accused of arson in the fire that destroyed 5,000 acres of the Cleveland National Forest is the son of Cypress Police Chief Ronald E. Lowenberg, the senior Lowenberg confirmed Saturday.

"Yes, he's my son, but I have no comment about him," said Lowenberg, who has been police chief for seven years.

Robert E. Lowenberg was arrested Friday in Garden Grove on suspicion of setting the fire in Silverado Canyon that more than 1,000 firefighters battled for five days, at an estimated cost of $1.3 million. Lowenberg is being held without bail at Terminal Island federal prison and will be charged Monday in a Los Angeles federal court, U.S. Forest Service officials said.

Family members, friends and neighbors of Robert (Robbie) E. Lowenberg of Garden Grove offered differing opinions about him Saturday. Randy Detarr, manager of the Radio Shack store at Magnolia Street and Garden Grove Boulevard in Garden Grove, where Lowenberg has worked as a clerk for six months, called him "a nice guy. You wouldn't find any better. I'm just not saying that because he worked for me. You can ask any of the customers. Everybody who knows about Robbie's arrest is shocked."

Friends Saw Arrest

Detarr said he was with Lowenberg at 6:30 p.m. Friday when authorities arrested him.

"We'd just gone over to Charlie's Fish (three doors from the Radio Shack). When we came out of Charlie's, these two guys came up to Robbie," Detarr said.

"One guy took him by the right arm and the other guy took his left. They turned him around and put cuffs on him."

Detarr said the men identified themselves as an FBI agent and a Forest Service investigator, and they told Lowenberg he was under arrest. Lowenberg did not resist.

"We were both so stunned that we didn't say anything," Detarr said.

But on Bickley Circle in Garden Grove Saturday, where the Lowenberg family lived until this summer, some neighbors said they weren't surprised.

A neighbor who requested anonymity said she told her 18-year-old son not to associate with Lowenberg.

"He was always getting into trouble and was just a bad influence," she said.

But her son disagreed. "I've known him since he was in first grade, and he's a good guy," the son said. "He played football for three years at (Rancho Alamitos High in Garden Grove). . . . OK, he dropped out of school in his senior year, but he went to night school and got his diploma."

Several neighbors mentioned that in the past year in the area, there has been a series of fires of evergreen trees, trash cans and a car.

"I don't believe he started the fires around here," the 18-year-old said, "and I don't believe he set the Silverado fire."

Dawn Hlvain, who attended Rancho Alamitos with Lowenberg and lives across the street from his grandparents in Garden Grove, said, "He hung out with the athletes and had a real jock attitude.

"He liked to party all the time, and if you looked at him the wrong way," he got upset, she said.

Classmates Comment

Eleanor Parks, 17, who attended Rancho Alamitos before moving to Lake Perris over the summer, said: "Robbie was one of these guys who liked to give you (trouble) because of the way you dressed. I'm a punker, and he liked giving us a hard time."

Another neighbor on Bickley Circle, a former classmate of Lowenberg's at Rancho Alamitos High, said he was an "aggressive sort" who played football and wrestled in school.

"He always had a girlfriend," said the classmate, who talked on condition that his name not be used. "He was popular because he was funny; always willing to pull a prank for a laugh--the type that was the life of a party."

Lowenberg, however, was not known as a "serious student," the classmate said. "I guess that's why he dropped out."

An aunt of Robert Lowenberg who lives in Anaheim said her nephew's arrest has been a "terrible, terrible shock to our family."

The aunt, who requested anonymity, said: "He's never had a problem. I don't why he'd do this."

Said another neighbor on Bickley: "I was shocked to read in the paper about Robbie's arrest. He was always nice and polite to me. I have such heartache for his mom and dad. I can't picture him doing anything like that. . . . His father's a policeman; my husband's father was a policeman. Sometimes the sons of policemen have to carry an extra burden."

Forest Service investigators have refused to say whether Lowenberg is the sole suspect in the fire.

Times staff writer Steven R. Churm contributed to this story.

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