Eric Ray

Eric Wayne Ray

The preliminary hearing for a former Cal Fire contract worker accused of sexually abusing a minor by force faced multiple postponements since the summer and was delayed again on Friday.

Eric Wayne Ray, 36 of Columbia, mixed retardant for firefighting aircraft at Columbia Air Attack Base until his arrest on July 6 while at work there.

According to a Tuolumne County Superior Court database, Ray is charged with 10 felonies related to the sexual abuse of a minor. The gender, exact age or condition of the minor was not identified in court documents.

Ray is charged with two counts of sex with a minor under the age of 10, two counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a child under 14, two counts of a forcible lewd act upon on a child, rape by force or fear, sodomy by force on a child under 14, recurring sexual conduct with someone under the age of 14 and preventing or dissuading a witness by force or fear.

All the charges are related to June 1, according to a court database.

Ray has remained in the custody of the Tuolumne County Jail since his arrest. He was held at the time of his arrest on $250,000 bail. 

Ray appeared via video on Friday at what was scheduled to be a preliminary hearing. Bearded, maskless and with his hands shackled behind his back, he spoke little during the brief hearing. Sonora attorney Lindsey Terry represented Ray on Friday due to the absence of his attorney, Ashley Belden.

Tuolumne County Deputy District Attorney Cassandra Jenecke said she had previously called off witnesses who were expected to testify on Monday for the preliminary hearing. 

His preliminary hearing was rescheduled for Dec. 11 at 8:30 a.m.

The preliminary hearing for Ray was postponed multiple times since July, according to the court database. It was not identified which day he entered his not-guilty plea. 

The criminal complaint against Ray was filed on July 8. 

His first hearing was on July 8, and the Tuolumne County Public Defender's Office declared a conflict in the case on July 14.

Sonora attorney Ashley Belden was assigned the case on July 17.

On July 31, Belden requested a continuance to Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Kevin Seibert as she awaited additional discovery documents. During that hearing, she entered a time waiver on behalf of Ray, allowing the preliminary hearing to occur outside of 60 days of his arraignment day as typically required by law.

On Sept. 4, Belden made an oral motion to Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge Donald Segerstrom to postpone another preliminary hearing because she was still receiving discovery. 

The date for the hearing on Friday was set in early October. 

Ray has appeared on video for the majority of his hearings. 

According to arrest logs, Ray lived on South Airport Road near Columbia Air Attack Base. 

A base battalion chief told The Union Democrat in July that Ray was not an employee of Cal Fire or the state.

Ray was employed with Perimeter Solutions, the retardant contractor for Columbia Air Attack Base. 

The international company is based in Missouri with a U.S. headquarters in Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino County. They specialize in fire safety products like PHOS-CHEK, a trademarked retardant.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.

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