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Police Chief's Son Arrested in 5,000-Acre Forest Blaze

September 20, 1987|DOUG BROWN and STEVEN R. CHURM | Times Staff Writers

The 19-year-old son of Cypress' police chief has been arrested and is to be charged with setting a fire that burned 5,000 acres of the Cleveland National Forest near Silverado Canyon in Orange County.

Robert E. Lowenberg was arrested late Friday by U.S. Forest Service investigators in Garden Grove outside the electronics store where he works.

Lowenberg is the son of Ronald E. Lowenberg, police chief of the Orange County city, family members said Saturday. Attempts to reach the elder Lowenberg were unsuccessful.

Randy Detarr, manager of the Radio Shack store at the corner of Magnolia and Katella avenues, said Saturday that he and Lowenberg had just stepped through the front door on their way to a nearby fast-food restaurant when two men grabbed Lowenberg. One identified himself as an FBI agent, and the other as a Forest Service investigator, Detarr said. They told Lowenberg that he was under arrest for arson, and he offered no resistance, Detarr said.

'Didn't Say Anything'

"Both of us were so stunned, we just didn't say anything," said Detarr, who said Lowenberg had worked at the store for six months.

Several days before his arrest, Lowenberg told Detarr that he had been in the foothills with a friend the day the Silverado fire began, Detarr said.

On Saturday, Lowenberg was still being held without bail in the federal prison at Terminal Island. He is scheduled to appear Monday before a U.S. magistrate. At that time, Lowenberg is to be formally charged and bail will be set.

Forest Service spokesman Dick Marlow said Saturday that Lowenberg confessed to setting the blaze, which blackened more than 5,000 acres.

Investigators refused to say whether Lowenberg was the sole suspect in the fire, which took five days to contain. They said a motive in the alleged arson has not been established.

Investigators were led to Lowenberg by an informant, a Forest Service spokesman said.

Tommy Lanier, Forest Service special agent who is coordinating the team of investigators, declined to give more details about Lowenberg because, he said, it would hinder the investigation.

The fire, which began Sept. 9, was deemed suspicious from the outset because residents of the mountains above Silverado Canyon reported seeing two men in a dark blue Toyota pickup truck starting fires near Dead Man's Corner.

Cost Set at $1.3 Million

The fire was eventually controlled a week ago at an estimated cost of $1.3 million. It took 1,108 firefighters to complete a 14-mile containment ring in the Coldwater Canyon area of the forest in Riverside County.

Friday night, relatives of Lowenberg expressed shock at his arrest, with his grandmother, Mrs. Kenneth Lowenberg of Garden Grove, describing him as a "nice boy."

She said her grandson, who once lived with her, attended Rancho Alamitos High School in Garden Grove but dropped out before graduating. He held a series of jobs, one of them as a clerk in an auto parts store, she said.

When asked whether her grandson is an outdoorsman, she said, "I didn't think he ever went to the forest."

The fire briefly threatened scattered homes in Silverado, Temescal and Bedford canyons, but moved away from populated areas and was confined to dense brush.

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