Witness describes fear, chase by Grizzly Peak Fire arson suspect

- A 24-year-old Concord man has been charged with starting the Grizzly Peak Fire in the East Bay hills, along with allegations that stem from an earlier encounter where a pair of 18-year-olds say he chased them, all the while pointing a long-barrel rifle into their PT Cruiser.

Alfredo Bautista also told a police officer that he had started the Aug. 2 fire along Grizzly Peak Boulevard on the border of Oakland and Berkeley,  along with eight others in the area, court documents state.

Bautista pleaded not guilty to charges by the Alameda County District Attorney on Tuesday on felony counts of arson, second degree robbery, auto theft and assault. Efforts to immediately reach Bautista or reach his attorney were not immediately successful on Tuesday.

Not only did University of California Police Officer Ryan Miyamoto  testify in his probable cause statement that he found a cigarette lighter in Bautista’s pocket when he arrested him, but Bautista later made a “voluntary admission that he was the person who started the fire on Grizzly Peak near sign post 14,” Miyamoto wrote. “Bautista admitted to starting eight fires in the area fires in the area using the cigarette lighter he had in his possession.”

The fire burned 20 acres and caused one CalFire inmate to suffer minor injuries. No property was damaged during the fire. The fire was 100 percent contained on Saturday, about three days after it started.

According to the police statement, an hour after the fire was reported about 1 p.m., Bautista was spotted by witnesses stealing a car near buildings 85 and 86 of the Lawrence Berkeley National  Laboratory on Calvin Road.

He was arrested on campus about 2 p.m. following a bizarre and violent encounter six hours earlier on Fish Ranch Road at Grizzly Peak Boulevard – very close to the fire’s origin spot.

That’s where Dru Anne Billings, 18, who moved to the Bay Area from Reno, Nev. and her friend Oliver Norwood, 18, were chatting in her PT Cruiser about 8 a.m.

“Out of nowhere,” Billings told KTVU in an exclusive interview on Tuesday, this “shirtless, Tarzan” who was “intensely smoking” appeared.  “He didn’t look like he’d be a threat, though,” she said. “It was awful. We were just minding our own business.”

Suddenly, Billings said a man she later identified as Bautista approached her and Norwood with a “revolving long-barrel pistol.” She said she knows guns as she was on the marksmanship team in her hometown.  “I was like, what the F---!” she said. “Oliver yelled, ‘He has a gun, let’s get out of here,’ “ she recounted.

To herself, Billings remembered thinking: “I’m not having it. And I take him on a joy ride at 70 mph. He kept hitting me and ramming me until I lost control.”

Her PT Cruiser smashed into a parked car, and while she refused medical attention at the scene, on Tuesday she said she fears she has a troubling spinal injury.

While she was driving, Norwood was trying to call 911. But both of their phones were dead. After she crashed, she said Bautista took off “but only after he saw an Oakland firefighter coming down the hill.” 

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