Park Service employee convicted in casino fire |

Park Service employee convicted in casino fire

RENO, Nev. – A Reno jury has convicted a U.S. Park Service employee of two counts of arson for setting a fire at the Atlantis Casino-Resort.

Washoe District Judge Brent Adams set a June 30 sentencing for Steve A. Sandoval, 37, of Pecos, N.M. Sandoval was convicted Wednesday of first-degree arson and third-degree arson.

The first-degree charge carries a sentence of two to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. The third-degree charge carries a sentence of one to four years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

The fire last July began in a floral planter in a hotel tower, raced through four floors of silk plants in an atrium and caused evacuation of more than 400 rooms.

”He’s too embarrassed to admit that someone who works for Smokey the Bear, someone who works for the Park Service, deliberately threw a match into the planter,” Chief Deputy District Attorney David Clifton told jurors of Sandoval.

Clifton said Sandoval, who was in Reno for a business meeting with about 200 other federal employees, was drunk and upset with the casino because security personnel had twice gone to his room to ask him to be quiet.

A casino security camera showed a drunken Sandoval leaving and returning to his room on the same floor where the fire started at about the same time it started.

He was out of range of the camera for 52 seconds, Clifton and defense lawyer Robert Bell agreed, and the film does not show how the fire started.

”He wouldn’t, he couldn’t, he didn’t set the fire, Bell told jurors in his closing argument.

”This was an accidental fire, pure and simple,” Bell argued. ”It’s a case of circumstantial evidence only and we don’t know what happened in that 52 seconds.”