A gay man who allegedly set several small fires at a Santa Rosa church has been referred to the state’s hospital system for mental health treatment.
Yovan David Ayon, 34, was arrested in August on arson and probation violation charges. Family members say he’d been struggling with methamphetamine addiction.
Police said in a news release that at about 3:35 p.m. August 11, Santa Rosa firefighters responded to a report of a fire inside St. Rose of Lima Church, 398 10th Street, and found four separate fires burning in or around an altar.
“The fires were small and quickly extinguished,” police said. “No structural damage occurred as a result of the fire, but several decorative altarpieces were destroyed.”
On August 12, police following up on a lead conducted a probation search of a home near the church and contacted Ayon.
“Evidence related to the arson was located inside the residence and Ayon was transported to the Santa Rosa Police Department for further questioning,” police said. “Further research into Ayon’s background revealed he is currently on four different counts of probation stemming from arrests and convictions for possession of narcotics and assault and battery.”
He was eventually arrested and booked into Sonoma County Jail on suspicion of felony arson and violation of probation.
In an interview this week, Brian Staebell, Sonoma County’s chief deputy district attorney, said that at a hearing September 9, Ayon, who hadn’t entered a plea, was found to be mentally incompetent and criminal proceedings were suspended.
On September 23, Ayon was sent to the California Department of State Hospitals “to attempt to restore him to competency,” Staebell said. Generally, defendants in felony cases under similar circumstances go to Napa State Hospital, Staebell said.
Deputy Public Defender Karen Thompson, who represented Ayon, didn’t respond to an interview request.
‘… He wasn’t quite himself’
Ayon’s cousin Carlos Godinez, 32, of Torrance, California, said he didn’t know anything about Ayon’s arson case.
“We come in and out of contact with him, because he has a serious methamphetamine problem,” Godinez, who confirmed Ayon is gay, said. “I’m assuming he wasn’t quite himself” when he allegedly set the fires.
Godinez, who last saw Ayon in January, said his cousin had been “a wonderful person.”
“He would make friends with anybody,” Godinez said. “He was the life of the party.”
Ayon moved to Santa Rosa around two years ago “to try to kick the habit,” Godinez said. Ayon’s mother lives in the city, which is about an hour north of San Francisco, “and she tried to help him out by keeping him away from the bad crowd he was in.”
Godinez said he never saw Ayon using meth but “sometimes I would see the substance around” when he’d visit.
“He wasn’t ashamed to hide it anymore,” he said. “It was out in the open.”
Before last Friday’s hearing, another cousin, Monica Godinez, 29, of Long Beach, California, said, “He’s gone from his mind already. … I don’t know how to bring him back.” However, she said, “I really do hope they give him some good mental health treatment.”
“Yovan was a go-getter” and “really smart,” she said. “He had a lot going on for him at one point.”
She never saw her cousin use meth, but “the family talks. The family really does communicate with each other.”
She added, “You could see when he was on it. … The law time I saw him he got into a real religious state. He thought he was connecting with the universe.”
Godinez thought the fires at the church weren’t “to harm anyone. In his head, he was probably doing a ritual or something.”
Staebell said that in the hospital, “They would hold him there for up to three years.”
If Ayon’s competency is restored, his case will return to court and criminal proceedings will be reinstated.
Citing laws on patient confidentiality, Ralph Montano, a spokesman for the state hospitals agency, said he couldn’t comment on any patient’s status or acknowledge whether that person “has ever been a patient in a state hospital.”
Reverend Denis O’Sullivan, St. Rose’s pastor, who didn’t know Ayon, said that based on what police told him, “I’m believing it’s the mental illness and whatever drugs he might have been on, as well, rather than any hate crime against the church.”