A man accused of setting the Columbia House Restaurant in Columbia State Historic Park on fire in December will serve two years in state prison, after pleading guilty to a felony arson charge, attorneys said.
Daenon Vincent Brewer, a 21-year-old transient, accepted a plea deal from the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office when he appeared in Superior Court for a preliminary hearing Jan. 11.
Brewer will also be required to register as an arsonist, Deputy District Attorney Clint Parish said.
Arson of a structure is punishable by imprisonment for two, four or six years, Parish said. Brewer could have faced a two-year enhancement because damage to the structure exceeded $200,000, he said.
Parish said the District Attorney’s Office was not aware of the extent of the damage when it offered the deal.
A misdemeanor charge of being under the influence of opiates at the time of the arson, plus unrelated misdemeanor charges, were dismissed as part of the agreement, according to Public Defender Carolyn Woodall.
Brewer will be eligible for parole after one year, she said.
“There were mental health issues of the defendant that were taken into consideration at the time of the plea offer,” Parish said.
Brewer’s mother, Dana Lancaster, of Sonora, said her son has been struggling with mental illness since he was hit by a car on May 14, 2010.
About 9:54 p.m. that day, Brewer was either walking or riding a lightweight, unmotorized Razor scooter east in the westbound lane on Highway 108, near Plainview Road in the Twain Harte area, according to the California Highway Patrol.
A westbound driver on Highway 108 in a 2005 Nissan Pathfinder didn’t see him in the darkness and struck him at 50 mph.
Brewer was airlifted to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto with major injuries.
Lancaster said Brewer had a brain hemorrhage and was in a coma and on life support. His other injuries included a shattered leg and burst spleen.
“They actually didn’t think he was going to make it,” she said.
Lancaster said Brewer had a drug addiction prior to the accident and now “self-medicates.”
She said his traumatic brain injury has led to multiple personality disorder, anger and paranoia. She said treating his illness has been a constant struggle.
“He’s got a beautiful heart,” she said. “When he’s having a great day, he’s having a great day. He’s not a monster, he just needed help.”
Lancaster said mental health and rehabilitation programs Brewer has been through have not been effective, and she is worried he will continue getting into trouble.
“Putting someone in prison or putting someone in jail doesn’t really address the problem when it comes to mental illness … he’s not going to learn anything from it,” she said.
The Sheriff’s Office arrested Brewer at State and Main streets in Columbia at 6:34 p.m. Dec. 30, about 10 minutes after Cal Fire received multiple reports of a fire at the restaurant.
He was booked on suspicion of felony charges of arson, burglary and violation of probation; misdemeanor charges of drunk and disorderly conduct and being under the influence of drugs; and an infraction of possession of marijuana under one ounce.
The District Attorney’s Office charged him with arson and being under the influence of opiates.
About 75 percent of the Main Street restaurant was destroyed, but no injuries were reported.
At 6:22 p.m. that night, the Sheriff’s Office received a call about Brewer causing a disturbance at the nearby City Hotel, according to dispatch logs.
The Sheriff’s Office received another call minutes later from the same person saying Brewer had started a fire, dispatch logs said.
Investigators said Brewer broke into the closed business through the front door and set the restaurant’s Christmas tree on fire, according to Sheriff’s Sgt. Jeff Wilson.
The fire was contained at 8:02 p.m. and completely extinguished at 10:08 p.m., according to Cal Fire.
Brewer will be sentenced on Feb. 11.
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