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Federal jury convicts woman of burning down Off Road Warehouse

Bookkeeper for the Kearny Mesa business intentionally set the fire to cover up the disappearance of more than $700,000

San Diego—A federal jury has convicted Carey Alice Hernandez, bookkeeper for Off Road Warehouse headquartered in Kearny Mesa, of intentionally setting fire to the business to cover up the disappearance of more than $700,000 while she was in charge of company finances.

After a four-day trial, jurors found Hernandez guilty of malicious destruction of a building by means of fire, witness tampering and making false statements.

In late 2018, the owner of Off Road Warehouse, also known as ORW, which sold and installed automotive parts and gear for off-roading, decided to sell the business located at 7915 Balboa Avenue. The purchaser began an audit of ORW. The audit revealed that during Hernandez’s tenure as bookkeeper and controller in charge of the company books and records, $744,621 went missing between January 2015 and March 2019.

The jury found that in the early morning hours of March 28, 2019, Hernandez started the fire at Off Road Warehouse, causing the building to burn to the ground.

According to evidence presented at trial, shortly before the fire, local surveillance video showed an SUV with dark wheel rims driving near the defendant’s house in Point Loma. Further video surveillance showed the defendant driving the same vehicle to the scene of the arson before she started the fire. Surveillance also showed her driving back home after the fire, in the same dark-rimmed SUV.

The day after the fire, Hernandez sent misleading texts to ORW employees in an attempt to convince them her wheel rims were light, not dark. Specifically, after learning that law enforcement was searching for a dark-rimmed SUV, she tried to convince employees who had changed her vehicle’s distinctive rims before the fire that her vehicle had light rims during the time of the fire and thus, the SUV spotted on surveillance cameras could not be hers.

During a subsequent interview with special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Hernandez lied about the distinctive rims on her vehicle. However, the lies to law enforcement and attempts to tamper with witnesses were contradicted by the video surveillance from the day after the fire, showing the defendant driving around San Diego in her dark-rimmed, not light-rimmed, SUV. These acts resulted in her convictions for witness tampering and false statements.

“While it is extremely fortunate that no one was physically hurt in this blaze, it was a devastating loss for the company,” said U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath. “This defendant used arson, tampering with witnesses, and deceit to put the community in danger, but the jury held her accountable.”

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