Arson suspect due in court

Christina O'Haver, The Union Democrat

A man accused of setting the Columbia House Restaurant in Columbia State Historic Park on fire Sunday was scheduled this morning to appear in court for arraignment.

The Tuolumne County District Attorney's Office charged Daenon Vincent Brewer, a 21-year-old transient, with arson and being under the influence of drugs.

Brewer was arrested by the Sheriff's Office on suspicion of arson and other charges at 6:34 p.m. Sunday, about 10 minutes after Cal Fire received multiple reports about a fire at the restaurant.

Cal Fire Battalion Chief Nick Casci said 75 percent of the Main Street structure was destroyed, but fire crews were able to save Angelo's Hall, which is connected to the building at the rear.

The Sheriff's Office received a call from the City Hotel on Main Street about 6:22 p.m. about a man banging on doors and windows and cursing and spitting at customers, according to dispatch logs.

The same man apparently chased people down the street outside the hotel a few nights before, according to the logs.

Park employees have seen Brewer in the area several times and said "he's always causing trouble," according to Sheriff's Office Sgt. Jeff Wilson.

At 6:23 p.m., the Sheriff's Office received another call from the person who reported the initial disturbance saying Brewer had started a fire.

Brewer was seen throwing a burning object toward the front of the Columbia House Restaurant and standing in the street yelling at people, Wilson said.

Brewer later claimed he was warning people about the fire, according to Wilson.

Investigators said Brewer broke into the closed business through the front door and set the restaurant's Christmas tree on fire, Wilson said.

Columbia resident Christoffer Oydegaard, whose father owns the nearby Columbia Booksellers and Stationers store, was taking photos in the state park when the fire started.

"All I saw was an orange glow, and then flames shooting out of the window and smoke pouring into the street from the front door," he said.

Oydegaard alerted the Jack Douglass Saloon, which is managed by the same proprietors as the Columbia House Restaurant - Steve and Doreen Kwasnicki.

The couple recently purchased the restaurant for their 22-year-old daughter, Megan Collier, who went to culinary school at Cordon Bleu in San Francisco.

Engines from Cal Fire in Calaveras County, Tuolumne County Fire's Jamestown station, the Columbia Fire Department and Sonora City Fire Department responded.

Also on scene were two water tenders, a battalion chief, division chief and two off-duty firefighters.

The fire was contained at 8:02 p.m. and completely extinguished at 10:08 p.m., according to Cal Fire Communications Operator Jim Devoll.

No injuries were reported.

Brewer was booked on suspicion of arson, burglary and violation of probation - all felony charges.

He was also booked on suspicion of misdemeanor charges of drunk and disorderly conduct and being under the influence of drugs, and an infraction of possession of marijuana under one ounce.

Brewer has had numerous warrants in Tuolumne County for alleged burglary, vandalism, public intoxication, traffic offenses and drug-related crimes dating back to at least 2008, according to Wilson.

Brewer this morning remained in Tuolumne County Jail without bail.

The Union Democrat
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