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Youth Admits He Set Forest Fire, U.S. Says

September 21, 1987|JERRY HICKS | Times Staff Writer

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, a Forest Service special agent. "He doesn't have an answer for that."

Robert E. Lowenberg, son of Police Chief Ronald E. Lowenberg, was arrested Friday afternoon near a Radio Shack store in Garden Grove where he worked.

Lanier said an audio tape shows that it was the Lowenberg youth who called authorities to report the fire shortly after it started. But it was a call from an unidentified informant that led to Lowenberg's arrest, Lanier said.

Randy Detarr, manager of the Radio Shack and Lowenberg's boss, said in an interview that Lowenberg told him that he accidentally started the fire.

Deliberately Set

Lanier, however, said Sunday that Lowenberg has told federal investigators that he set the blaze deliberately.

Lanier confirmed reports that a second young man is a key figure in the federal investigation of the fire. But he declined 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 explained.

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.

Lowenberg, who is being held without bail at Terminal Island federal prison, is to be arraigned in Los Angeles federal court today on an arson charge.

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