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Lady Bug fire suspect arraigned

Olukunle pleads not guilty, returns to court Nov. 4.

October 20, 2010|By Joe Piasecki, The Valley Sun

The man accused of starting last year's small Lady Bug brushfire in the Angeles National Forest days before the massive Station fire pleaded not guilty Tuesday to one felony charge of recklessly causing a fire to forest land.

Authorities have said that Babatunsin Olukunle, who allegedly started the fire just off the Angeles Crest Highway, is not tied to the Station fire, which started days later and raged out of control to become the largest in Los Angeles County history.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Atty. Sean Carney said that on Aug. 20, 2009, forest officials traveling on Angeles Crest Highway saw smoke rising above the trees and came upon the 26-year-old allegedly feeding a small fire about 100 feet from the road.

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Carney said Olukunle fled the scene after the blaze was extinguished, leaving behind a coffee can full of water and a bag of rice.

"There were no precautions taken to keep the fire from spreading," Carney said.

Olukunle's clean-shaven appearance in a Los Angeles County Superior Courtroom in Pasadena contrasted the disheveled look of his booking photo.

Olukunle remains in custody and was silent throughout the brief appearance, but his eyes lit up after his mother, Los Angeles resident Taiwo Olukunle, entered the courtroom.

After the brief proceeding, she said her son, a native of Nigeria, "went to the forest because he was having personal problems."

Superior Court Judge Terri Schwartz declined the Valley Sun's request to photograph the proceedings following a bench conference with Carney and defense attorney Katherine Bonaguidi.

Babatunsin Olukunle is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 4 for a pretrial conference.

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