The proposed home of a convicted child predator was destroyed Thursday in what investigators described as a suspicious fire, just days after the Fresno County district attorney’s office had announced a hearing regarding his placement on the rural property.
Firefighters responded just after 11 a.m. to a report of black smoke in the area of 36000 Sage Lane in Squaw Valley, said Capt. Jeremiah Wittwer, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection for Fresno County. When firefighters arrived, they saw flames razing a single-wide mobile home proposed for child molester Jeffrey F. Snyder. The mobile home was empty and unfurnished, but had power, Wittwer said. No one was injured.
It was unclear what started the blaze, Wittwer said, but the timing raised some flags.
“We cannot rule out arson,” he said.
Investigators will be inspecting the home’s wiring and looking into whether the fire has anything to do with an announcement about Snyder’s hearing.
The district attorney said Tuesday that a Feb. 28 hearing had been scheduled for Snyder, 61, a sexually violent predator convicted seven times of molesting children. At the hearing, attorneys planned to discuss Snyder’s home, a site proposed by the California Department of State Hospitals.
Snyder’s placement has been contentious for Fresno County residents. In September, a county judge rejected a bid to move him to northwest Fresno after owners of nearly 300 properties declined to rent to him, the Fresno Bee reported.
Alluding to that community’s success in blocking Snyder, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office took to Facebook on Wednesday to urge Squaw Valley residents to speak up.
“We are sending this message out to the entire county because we want you to be aware that he or another offender could be scheduled to move to your neighborhood in the future, so it's beneficial to be aware of the power you hold and how the process works,” the sheriff’s office wrote. “We know many will say, just ship him to another state. However, under the law, Snyder must be relocated in Fresno County because this is where he was prosecuted.”
Details about the proposed 756-square-foot home and its address were listed in the district attorney’s release. The two-bedroom home with one bathroom, a main residence and detached garage is on 4.6 acres in rustic area in southwest Fresno County.
Snyder’s attorney Curtis Sok said he suspected the fire was arson, but was not discouraged about finding a place for his client. He said he hoped to replace the burned shell with another mobile home on the same property. The land, Sok said, is far from other homes and people, and placing Snyder there would be “protecting everybody.”
“This is a very good location,” he said. “It’s out in the boonies.”
Sok said Snyder has passed every treatment program, received “glowing” reports from his doctors and has earned his release. Snyder, he said, would be “on a very tight leash.”
“We and my client are very aware of the public’s concern,” he said. “We are going to do the right thing.”
California Department of State Hospitals spokesman Ralph Montano told The Times that its contractor would continue to work with the court to “identify potential housing that a judge deems appropriate for patients who are conditionally released.”
Asst. Dist. Atty. Steve Wright said he expected Liberty Healthcare, the contractor hired to help find housing for Snyder, to inform the Fresno County judge at the hearing that the property was no longer available and to ask for additional time to search for new housing.
“This has never happened before,” he said.
Snyder has been in custody since September 2002, when he violated parole for having contact with a minor. According to the district attorney’s office, Snyder’s victims are males 8 to 17. He has been in and out of prison since 1979, when he was found to be “a mentally disordered sex offender.”
After he was released from prison, Snyder was sent to Coalinga State Hospital, where he has been receiving sex offender treatment.
A judge ruled in March that Snyder was still a sexually violent predator, but had qualified for outpatient treatment only through a conditional release program. He would wear a GPS ankle monitor and be under supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week, his attorney said.