A Fountain Valley man angered by his eviction from a Santa Ana motel room bought some gas and set off an explosion and fire, a prosecutor told jurors today.
But an attorney for Thanh Van Quang, 39, who faces a possible life sentence because of the three-strikes law, said that while his client may have done something "stupid," he did not commit arson.
During the trial, jurors will not hear about Quang's criminal record, which includes May 1998 plea to charges of voluntary manslaughter, armed robbery and assault with a firearm, according to court records. If he is convicted, he could be sentenced to 31 years to life in prison.
"Revenge, that's it," Deputy District Attorney Andrew Katz said of the motivation for setting off the explosion and fire at the Pueblo Motel at 1501 N. Harbor Blvd. on Nov. 30, 2012.
"He got furious at the manager for evicting him," Katz said.
The owner-manager, Myung Cha, kicked out Quang, who checked 10 days earlier, because he violated a "no guests" rule, Katz said.
Quang was arguing with two friends so loudly that Cha called police about 1:40 p.m. Nov. 30. Cha confronted Quang about the argument and told him he was being evicted, Katz said.
About 3:25 p.m., Quang was seen at a 76 gas station within walking distance of the motel buying a red gas can and about a gallon of fuel, Katz said.
Quang does not own a car and would have no reason to buy fuel, so Cha was alarmed when he saw the defendant returning to the motel carrying a gas can, Katz said. The motel owner kept an eye on Quang with surveillance cameras, according to the prosecutor.
The surveillance video shows Quang spending the next 18 minutes removing some of his belongings and pouring gasoline inside the room, Katz said.
At one minute before 4 p.m., after Quang closes the door and curtains, and, "The defendant is blown out the front door," he said.
Cha dialed 911 and told Quang, who was walking away in the motel parking lot, to stay at the scene, Katz said. An Orange County sheriff's deputy passing by stopped and started questioning Quang, whose hair was singed and sustained burns to his back, hands and arm, Katz said.
Quang's attorney, Charles Hasse of the Orange County Public Defender's Office, said, "Basically, at the end of the day ... you'll see there's no malice in this case, and with no malice there's no arson."
Hasse said the evidence will show that a pilot light for a wall furnace sparked the "flash fire."
Quang "had no beef with Mr. Cha," Hasse said, adding the defendant did not argue with the motel manager when he was told he violated the no-guests rule.
"There's no threats, there's no escalation," Hasse said.
Cha called police following Quang's argument with his two friends, but the motel manager had a reputation for often calling authorities, Hasse said. Cha had also called police before his conflict with Quang to report homeless people in the area, the attorney said.
"He doesn't just run out and buy gas in a fit of revenge," Hasse said, noting Quang went to the store two hours after his discussion with the motel manager.
"Mr. Quang was going to move out in two days," Hasse said. "He planned to burn some of his clothes. It is odd, but not malicious."
Investigators found gas in two spots of the room, where Quang's clothes were piled up, Hasse said.
"It's stupid, but not malicious," Hasse said of pouring gas on the clothes in the room.
"He doesn't run away. He stays at the (motel parking lot)" to discuss what happened with police, Hasse said. "Yeah, he ran away from his room, because it blew up."
Quang is charged with one count each of arson of an inhabited property and possession of a flammable material, both felonies. He also faces sentencing enhancements for arson with the use of an accelerant and the prior strike convictions from 1998.
-- City News Service