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Fireman Is Charged With Vehicular Manslaughter

August 25, 2006|Maeve Reston | Times Staff Writer

A Hemet firefighter has been charged with vehicular manslaughter in the 2005 engine accident that killed a fellow firefighter.

Michael Lawrence Arizaga, 47, was charged in the death of Christopher Kanton, 23, of Temecula, who was killed last August while responding to a call near Banning, Riverside County officials said Thursday.

Arizaga, who works for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection-Riverside County, was driving the fire engine at about 45 mph through a rainstorm on Interstate 10 when it spun off the road and hit several trees before rolling down a 44-foot embankment.

Kanton, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the vehicle, California Highway Patrol officers said.

CHP investigators found that Arizaga was at fault in the accident because he failed to switch off a special engine brake that must be deactivated in rain or snow -- "an unlawful act, but, without gross negligence," said court documents released Thursday.

When Arizaga slowed as the truck rounded a curve, the heavy engine brake engaged, abruptly causing the truck to lose traction and spin out, officials said.

Investigators determined that the firefighter should have been traveling about 15 mph slower because of the heavy rain, CHP Officer Robert Saiz said.

As the driver, Arizaga was also responsible for making sure Kanton was wearing a seat belt, according to CHP Officer Dean Corey.

Arizaga, who did not return calls Thursday, is on administrative leave with pay. Officials would not specify how long he had been off duty.

Arizaga, scheduled to appear Sept. 12 in Riverside County Superior Court in Banning, could face up to a year in county jail if convicted.

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