Atwater Target arsonist takes plea deal. Here’s how much time he could serve in jail

An Atwater man has been convicted of arson after he reportedly set fire to the Applegate area Super Target, shutting down the megastore for almost a month.

Courtesy Merced County Sheriff's Office

Jaime Rojas, 43, entered into a plea deal Tuesday, pleading no contest to arson of property and second-degree burglary, according to court records. Additional felony charges of vandalism, grand theft and receiving stolen property were dropped, as a result of the deal.

Target 3.jpg
Police and fire crews were sent to the Target in the 1000 block of Commerce Avenue just after 9 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, after someone set fire to items on the toilet paper aisle, according to police. No injuries were reported, but the store was evacuated because of a large cloud of smoke. Atwater Police Department

A Merced County judge on Sept. 4 will sentence Rojas.

He faces a maximum of more than four years in prison, said Brad Nix, Merced County chief supervising deputy district attorney. But the plea agreement recommended a total of two years and eight months in prison.

Police and firefighters responded to reports of a fire just after 9 p.m., Aug. 7, 2018, at the Target in the 1000 block of Commerce Avenue in Atwater, investigators said.

Rojas set fire to items on the toilet paper aisle of the store, police said. The store was evacuated and no injuries were reported.

Store management had to shut down the store to remove water and repair walls and fixtures, Target spokesperson Kali Dingman said.

Food was donated to the Merced County Food Bank and damaged products were replaced, Dingman said.

The store opened on Sept. 2.

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Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.