Caldor Fire: Mark Matthews, a 9mm, and the Case Against the Smiths

It was 6:49 pm on August 14, 2021 when Shane Smith called 911 to report a wildland fire off Caldor road near the Dogtown Creek drainage. Within days, Shane and his father, David Smith, would become the focus of investigators’ attempts to determine how the fire started.

David Smith is 66 years old and has lived in El Dorado County since the mid-1970s. He and his wife raised three children here and he has worked at the Pepsi plant in Elk Grove for 40 years. According to his attorney, David has no prior criminal history and TJR has been unable to find any criminal or arrest records in the State of California.

David’s son, Shane, is 32 years old and grew up in Somerset, California. After high school he became a certified electrician and currently lives and works in Folsom. Friends describe Shane as an avid outdoorsmen. Shane appears to have no criminal history and his lawyers claim he has never been arrested.

According to the Smiths’ lawyers and the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office, David and Shane had been driving a Polaris side-by-side near the area where the fire is believed to have started on August 14th. After calling 911 from Caldor Road to report the fire’s location, both Smiths departed in the Polaris and drove back to David’s residence in Somerset.

Later that night, Pioneer Fire Protection District (PFPD) Chief Mark Matthews was the first to arrive to the fire’s scene. In a written statement, Matthews describes how he came upon the fire at approximately 10:40 p.m. and immediately found a number of spent 9mm bullet casings. He picked one up and smelled “freshly burnt gun powder.” Observing the direction the fire had spread, Matthews believed the origin of the fire must have been just beyond the casings. He then began taping off the area in order to secure what he believed to be a crime scene.

The following week David and Shane received calls from investigators. The line of questions led both mean to believe they were the target of the investigation. They contacted attorneys Mark Reichel and Linda Parisi of Sacramento, California. Within days, investigators conducted search warrants on the Smiths’ properties.

Four months later on December 8, 2021 both David and Shane Smith were arrested at their respective work places. They were charged reckless arson, illegally modifying a firearm, and possession of a silencer. They were each initially held on a $1 million dollar bond.

Through multiple public information requests and interviews with witnesses, The Jericho Report has learned more about what led to the Smiths’ arrests and how the DA believes the fire started on the evening of August 14th.

Early in the investigation, forest service and CalFire agents contacted Chief Mark Matthews. He recounted to the agents his story of arriving at the fire and finding freshly-spent 9mm bullet casings. Chief Matthews gave agents directions to find the area in which he discovered the casings. In December court filings, the DA mentions “agents” finding “several bullet casings that appeared to have been recently expelled.

The court filings do not specify whether the bullet casings cited by the DA are the same bullet casings discovered by Matthews. However, no other documents mention bullet casings. The Jericho Report has also learned that on August 17th Eric Fiedler, an agent with CalFire, was still asking Matthews for directions to the location where the casings were found. By then, any casings found would likely have lost any smell that accompanies a recently-discharged casing. It is reasonable to assume, then, that the “recently expelled” casings mentioned by the DA in their court filings are the same Matthews smelled and determined to be “fresh” on August 14th.

Several 9mm handguns and boxes of ammunition were found and removed from Shane’s home in Folsom. According to the defense team, however, subsequent ballistic testing did not match the casings Matthews found at the scene with any of the firearms or ammunition seized by investigators at either of the Smiths’ properties. It is unlikely we will know what the DA will do with this information until the trial begins.

We know the DA believed, as recently as December, that the fire started by gunfire. In their request to set bail at $1 million for each defendant the DA wrote, “Investigators determined the Caldor Fire likely ignited when a projectile discharged from a firearm and struck an object, causing heated fragments of the projectile to land in a dry receptive fuel bed, igniting the fuels.”

The DA claims that at least two witnesses were camping in the area and saw David and Shane drive by in their side-by-side. Moments later, they say, the witnesses heard “multiple gun shots.” The witnesses claim the Smiths soon reappeared and warned the campers about a fire down in the canyon. The Jericho Report has reached out to Mr. Reichel to ask whether his clients were indeed shooting firearms in the canyon that day. He declined to answer, adding that the public will know the answer to that question “when the time is right.”

We have also learned that, while conducting the August search warrants, agents were heard asking each other if “the cigarettes” had been found. The Jericho Report has learned investigators took into evidence a single cigarette butt found near the fire’s origin. Longtime friends of the Smiths state they have never seen Shane smoke. In a recent interview Mr. Reichel stated, “Shane has never smoked a cigarette a day in his life.” In their first court filings the DA does not mention cigarettes. For now, it appears that any theory investigators initially had that the fire was caused by a discarded cigarette has been set aside.

As The Jericho Report previously reported, investigators found earplugs near the area where the DA believes the fire started. A forensic analysis revealed that Shane is a “potential contributor” of DNA found on the earplugs. Both Smith attorneys see the earplugs as inconsequential as no one, including the Smiths, dispute being in the area the day the fire started.

Shane was also charged with illegally modifying a firearm. According to investigators, a forensic analysis of seized electronic devices revealed that Shane purchased a Rare Breed Trigger around August 9th, 2021. The DA claims this trigger helps convert a firearm into a machine gun, which is illegal under California law. It is not clear whether an AR-15 firearm with a Rare Breed Trigger installed was seized by law enforcement at the August search of Shane’s property. The Jericho Report will update this story as soon as the information is confirmed.

During law enforcement’s search of David’s property in Somerset, agents discovered “two burned metal tubes” that they believe to be consistent with firearm suppressors. The DA claims that electronic evidence showed Shane was searching solvent traps and had “an interest in converting them into suppressors for an AR-15.” Both men were subsequently charged with illegally possessing a silencer.

The Jericho Report has found no indication the DA believes the AR-15 in question is connected to the Caldor Fire. Additionally, no witness recalls seeing either Smith with such a firearm on August 14th. Again, for now it appears the DA believes the fire was started by a 9mm handgun and the supportive evidence was discovered by Chief Matthews.

The Smith’s defense team state that no one saw David or Shane fire a weapon on the 14th, nor did anyone see either man start the fire. In the DA’s court filings thus far no such witness is mentioned. The Jericho Report has interviewed several witnesses who saw the Smiths the day the fire began. None claim to have witnessed Shane or David shooting a firearm or starting the fire in any other fashion.

As we reported last December, the DA obtained several photos and videos from Shane’s Instagram account. The images depict Shane firing a number of weapons and shooting “dragon’s breath” incendiary rounds. The posts were from March and February, 2020. While the DA does not appear to be alleging illegal activity in relation to these posts, they do believe that the images show a “general lack of concern for proper firearms safety.” The DA used this information as part of their request to hold each man on a $1 million dollar bail.

After hearing from the DA’s counsel and defense attorneys, Judge Mark A. Ralphs reduced the bail amount for Shane to $50,000 and $25,000 for David. Ralphs cited the Smiths’ ties to their community as well as the low score they received from the court’s risk analysis. Ralphs went on to state that, had he kept the bail set at the DA-requested $1 million, he has no doubt it would be “reversed on review.”

David and Shane are currently out on bail and awaiting trial. Judge Ralphs was reassigned to another department within the county’s court. At a status conference earlier this month, a replacement judge assigned to the case announced she would be recusing herself. Sources state that her husband works in the DA’s office and may have worked on the Smiths’ case, potentially creating a conflict of interest. Judge Ralphs’ reassignment and the other judge’s recusal appears to have created a delay in getting the trial scheduled. We are told the defense team is still waiting to hear who the new judge assigned to the case will be. For now, it seems, everything is on hold.

The Jericho Report will cover all aspects of the Smiths’ trial.

If you appreciate this post, consider leaving a small tip to further support the author’s work.

2 thoughts on “Caldor Fire: Mark Matthews, a 9mm, and the Case Against the Smiths

  1. Amazing, Matthew’s couldn’t find his way to the fire. Sending people from Leoni to find it. But then again, he could find a few shell casings. Ya. I believe it. NOT. He couldn’t find his ass with both hands.

    I still haven’t seen any proof the Smiths had guns in their possession that day. Looks like a father and son out for a ride in our national forest.

  2. Pingback: Opinion: Caldor Fire Investigators Should Have Questioned Matthews, Freeman | The Jericho Report

Leave a Reply