David Anthony Pequeno was convicted of setting fires that destroyed or damaged multiple downtown Hollister businesses in November 2020, but was declared not guilty by reason of insanity, according to authorities. Following a hearing last week, Pequeno was ordered to spend up to the next 13 years or more in the custody of a state hospital.
Pequeno, 23, was found guilty on Feb. 25 of four counts of felony arson and nine counts of felony vandalism, as well as four misdemeanor charges, San Benito County Assistant District Attorney Ellen Campos said in a press release. The criminal case against Pequeno led to a court trial presided over by Judge Gilbert Brown. After reaching a verdict on the charges, Brown further found that Pequeno was not guilty by reason of insanity, Campos said.
“The court based its decision on psychological evaluations prepared by two court-appointed doctors and an additional independent evaluation commissioned by the District Attorney’s Office,” Campos said in the press release.
The charges are related to an early-morning crime spree Nov. 2, 2020, in which numerous structure fires were intentionally started and vehicles were damaged in downtown Hollister. Pequeno was accused of setting fire to two large commercial buildings. The fires affected multiple businesses, including Cheung Sheng Chinese Restaurant and She’s Consignment and Gifts.
The vandalism charges are related to multiple slashed tires on vehicles in various areas throughout Hollister the same day, Campos said.
On April 21, Superior Court Judge Hector Ramon sentenced Pequeno to be committed to the California State Hospital for up to 13 years, six months, authorities said.
“The District Attorney’s Office would like to thank the Hollister Police Department, the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office, the Hollister Fire Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for their hard work and dedication in the investigation of this case,” says the press release from the DA’s office.
About 2am Nov. 2, 2020, police and firefighters responded to multiple calls—first reporting a series of vehicle fires, then alerting authorities to two structure fires on Fifth and Sixth Street, police said. Hollister Fire Department responded to the structure fires to find the buildings already engulfed in flames. Firefighters were able to put out the fires and contain them from spreading to nearby buildings.
Investigators reviewed footage from downtown cameras and noticed a vehicle that appeared at two of the fire locations, police said. About 12pm Nov. 2, Hollister Police officers located the suspect’s vehicle near the 200 block of San Benito Street. Officers conducted surveillance on the vehicle, and eventually watched the suspect leaving the area in another vehicle.
About 2pm, officers conducted a felony vehicle stop and detained Pequeno, police said. He has been in custody at San Benito County Jail since his arrest.
Mugshot of David Anthony Pequeno
FROM THE ASHES Cheung Sheng Chinese Restaurant in Hollister was destroyed in a series of fires on Nov. 2, 2020 that affected 10 businesses and numerous vehicles. The restaurant reopened about eight months later at 730 San Benito St.
Credit: File photo