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Oxnard Woman Pleads Innocent to 7 Arson Charges

April 03, 1996|PAUL ELIAS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An Oxnard woman accused of setting fires with tabloid newspapers denied Tuesday that she was the infamous "Silver Strand Arsonist" when she pleaded not guilty in Ventura County Superior Court to seven felony arson and related charges.

A jury trial was scheduled for June for Rhonda Denise Erving, 42, a dock worker in San Pedro.

Police arrested Erving in January after reopening their investigation of about 30 arson fires that terrified the beach community for seven months in 1992 and 1993.

The rash of fires stopped shortly after Erving moved from the neighborhood to her current home on West 5th Street in Oxnard. She was arrested at her home after neighbors said they had put out a small fire that they said Erving had lighted. She remains free on $20,000 bail.

Two fire investigators testified at Erving's preliminary hearing that several of the fires were started with tabloid newspapers, including a tiny blaze in her own backyard. When Erving was arrested, investigators seized several editions of the National Enquirer and Star newspapers that had missing pages and partly torn covers dating back to 1993, according to an unsealed search warrant filed in court.

Most of the fires were small and did no significant damage. But three fires on the same night destroyed two automobiles and damaged a boat, officials said.

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