A 23-year-old man pleaded not guilty Wednesday in connection with an arson attack that destroyed a historic South Los Angeles church and injured three firefighters.
Carlos Francisco Diaz is charged with two counts of arson of a structure and one count of arson of a property, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
The charges stem from the 9/11 fire that destroyed Victory Baptist Church, as well as a fire that broke out on September 4 on the same property.
Diaz – who was arrested on Sunday – was ordered to remain in jail in lieu of $150,000 bond.
The fire was reported at 2:22 a.m. Sept. 11 at the two-story church at 4802 S. McKinley Ave., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.
“LAFD arson investigators and the House of Worship Multi-Agency Arson Task Force have opened an investigation into the cause of the fire,” according to a department statement. “Initial information immediately revealed no evidence of an intentional fire; however, its persistence later revealed security footage to help connect the dots.”
The joint investigation included personnel from the Los Angeles School Police Department and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Investigators were aided by eyewitnesses, the LAFD reported.
A historic black church in South Los Angeles was destroyed in a fire this weekend. The faithful of the church were able to recover very important objects.
About 150 firefighters were dispatched to the scene of the blaze, according to LAFD’s Nicholas Prange.
“Crews first entered to find heavy smoke inside the structure,” Prange said. “As the firefighters entered, inevitably introducing more air to the conditions inside, the fire behavior rapidly worsened. About 30 minutes after the firefighters arrived, there was a structural collapse at inside, trapping several LAFD members.”
Two Mayday calls were radioed for trapped personnel, and nearby crews quickly rescued three firefighters, officials said. One was taken to hospital in moderate condition, a second finished fighting the fire and was later hospitalized in fair condition, and a third followed alone with care after the fire, Prange said. .
After the collapse inside the building, crews retreated in defensive operations, pouring water on the flames from outside the building. The fire was extinguished within an hour and 40 minutes, Prange said.
Victory Baptist Church has been a spiritual center for the black community in Los Angeles for decades and a site of major significance for gospel music and the civil rights movement. The church was founded by Arthur Atlas Peters on Easter Sunday in 1943 and moved to the building on McKinley Avenue in 1944.
Pastor W. Edward Jenkins has sworn the church will not bend its tent.
“A church is a sanctuary, a place of worship, a place of healing and above all a place to come together for the good of the community. The fire at the historic Victory Baptist Church has deeply hurt our community,” the prosecutor said. of George Gascón district. said in a statement announcing the charges filed Sept. 15. I’m confident that Victory Baptist will continue to be a beacon of hope in South Los Angeles.”
A date is to be set for Oct. 5 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to allow the case against Diaz to go to trial.