Last month, Steven Taylor Rutherford, 49, of Banning, pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts of arson. On Friday, Sept. 5, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Becky Dugan sentenced him to 45 years in prison.
Rutherford was initially charged with 13 counts, but three counts were dismissed as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
“Serial arsonists like Mr. Rutherford present a continual danger and threat to everyone in the Inland Empire region,” Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach said in a press release. “This sentence ensures that he will spend the rest of his life in prison and will no longer be a threat.”
Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department Chief John Hawkins, who attended the sentencing hearing with several other fire officials and arson investigators, told the Town Crier, “I think justice was appropriately done. He was a recidivist arsonist in our area and he admitted he got immense rush from setting fires.”
Rutherford’s arrest on June 28, 2013, was the culmination of a lengthy investigation by Cal Fire arson investigators. He was connected to the series of arson fires through law enforcement and commercial business surveillance cameras, as well as lawfully placed GPS trackers on his vehicles, according to a district attorney press release.
“We knew he was in the area and our team put two and two together and focused on him,” Hawkins said. “We used pretty tight surveillance.”
Several of the fires were along Highway 243 in the Poppet Flats and Mt. Edna areas.
“The public deserves and expects the highest level of protection and not worrying blindly,” Hawkins added.