3 convicted of arson in Turlock cheese plant fire

rahumada@modbee.comMay 30, 2014 

Three women have been convicted of arson in connection with a fire that burned down a defunct Turlock cheese plant.

Authorities say Lanette Sullivan, Wanda White and Erika Clardy are responsible for the Feb. 19, 2013, blaze that gutted the former Lactalis USA building on West Main Street.

The defendants initially were accused of burning down the cheese plant in an attempt to kill Terry Sump, with whom they had fought. But Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen determined there wasn’t enough evidence for the defendants to stand trial on a charge of attempted murder.

During an arraignment hearing May 19, the defendants chose to plead no contest to arson of an inhabited building. Sump and other transients used to live inside the vacant building.

Steffen sentenced White and Sullivan to five years in prison and Clardy to three years. The judge also ordered them to register as arson offenders for the rest of their lives.

Sullivan and White are sisters, and White is Clardy’s mother.

Sump testified at the December preliminary hearing that he and Sullivan had fought over a $20 debt, which led to the fire. Sullivan told a detective that she and Sump also fought because she was seeing other men.

Fire officials said the blaze consumed much of the interior of the 59,000-square-foot building and its supports.

Lactalis made brie and other specialty cheeses at the plant from the 1980s until its closure in 2007.

The plant, similar to other empty buildings, had attracted homeless people who wanted to avoid the elements without going to a shelter. After the fire, the building was torn down to its concrete foundation.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeCourts.

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