Crime

He torched the Atwater Super Target last year. Here’s how long he’ll serve in prison

The man who last year torched the Atwater Super Target’s toilet paper aisle reached a deal with prosecutors that could release him from prison before the end of the year.

Jaime Rojas, 43, was sentenced last week to two years and eight months in prison on arson and burglary charges.

But with time already served in Merced County jail during court proceedings, and credit for good conduct, the Atwater resident could be free by December, according to state prison records. Restitution for the damages will likely be decided at a later date.

A fire broke out and smoke filled the Atwater Super Target in the 1000 block of Commerce Avenue shortly after 9 p.m. on Aug. 7, 2018. The store was evacuated as its sprinkler system went off, damaging millions of dollars worth of merchandise.

Target 1.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
closed for about a month

Investigators determined the fire’s origin was the toilet paper aisle. Rojas was arrested a day after the fire.

But while the fire led to significant losses and inconvenience, the facts of what happened made it tough to pursue significant prison time for Rojas, Merced County District Attorney Kimberly Lewis said.

“The reason a longer sentence was not available under the arson charge is because all of the damage within the Target store was to the property within the store,” Lewis says in an email statement. “There was no evidence of any structural damage to the building itself. In addition, no person suffered great bodily injury as a result of the fire.”

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

“Mr. Rojas is remorseful and his conduct was directly related to methamphetamine addiction,” Green said.

Prosecutors agreed to the plea deal because, Lewis said, it was the best way to ensure Rojas would serve prison time.

“Given the evidence in this case, the recommendation of the (Merced County Probation Department), and the judge’s comments during the prosecution of the case, the District Attorney’s Office believes no greater sentence was available,” Lewis said.

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.
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