The 19-year-old son of the Cypress police chief has admitted to federal investigators that he started the Sept. 9 fire that destroyed more than 5,000 acres of the Cleveland National Forest, but has not given any explanation for it, a U.S. Forest Service officer said Sunday.
"We've asked and asked and asked," said Tommy Lanier, Forest Service special agent. "He doesn't have an answer for that."
Robert E. Lowenberg, son of Cypress Police Chief Ronald E. Lowenberg, was arrested Friday afternoon near a retail store where he is employed on Garden Grove Boulevard in Garden Grove. Lanier said an audio tape reveals that it was the Lowenberg youth who called and reported the fire shortly after it started. But it was a call from an informant that led to Lowenberg's arrest, Lanier said.
Randy Detarr, Lowenberg's boss, said in an interview that Lowenberg told him he started the fire, but that it had been an accident.
Talked to Investigators
Lanier, however, said Sunday that Lowenberg has told federal investigators that he started the fire deliberately.
Lanier confirmed reports that a second young man is a key figure in the federal investigation of the fire. But he refused to say what the young man knows about the fire.
"We are not sure yet just what role he will play, so we're going to keep quiet about him for now," Lanier said. He also refused to identify the informant who led investigators to Lowenberg.
Lanier did say that Lowenberg, who does not yet have a lawyer, was interviewed for several hours after his arrest and "has been cooperating with us."
Lowenberg, who is being held without bail at Terminal Island federal prison in Los Angeles, is scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles today on suspicion of arson. Lanier said an attorney probably would be appointed for him at that time.
The senior Lowenberg confirmed Saturday that the suspect is his son, but declined further comment.
More than 1,000 firefighters battled the fire for five days, at an estimated cost of $1.3 million. At least seven firefighters were injured on the fire lines. Witnesses have told authorities that two men in a truck were seen leaving the scene shortly after the fire started.
Lanier confirmed that Lowenberg was driving a pickup truck at the time and that a second man was with him. But it was not the other man who set the fires, Lanier said.
Lanier said that based on information provided by Lowenberg, officials now believe the fire was started with a cigarette lighter in a grassy area of Silverado Canyon.
"The open flame touched the grass and it just started spreading up the canyon," Lanier said.