Landlord accused of starting fire near Turlock makes first court appearance

07/29/2014 5:10 PM

08/01/2014 1:29 PM

A landlord on Tuesday afternoon made his first court appearance since he was arrested Sunday on suspicion of starting a fire at a rural Turlock home with his three tenants still inside.

George Nazar, 51, is accused of three counts of attempted murder, along with one count of arson in connection with the blaze, which destroyed the travel trailer and a nearby outbuilding. The tenants escaped the burning home without injury and called for help.

The defendant entered the courtroom wearing an orange-and-white jail inmate jumpsuit and shackles on his wrists and ankles. Nazar appeared for his arraignment hearing without an attorney.

Judge David Vanderwall told the defendant that a criminal complaint, filed Tuesday morning, accuses Nazar of committing the crimes with premeditation.

Sunday’s incident involved a landlord-tenant dispute between Nazar and the people living in a travel trailer on his property. Sheriff’s officials have said the tenants called authorities Sunday morning to report that Nazar had threatened to kick them out and burn down the trailer.

Within minutes of the tenants’ call, the fire was reported.

The criminal complaint lists Richard Koontz, Brenda Bessey and Jonathan Koontz as the alleged victims in the case. Friends of the displaced tenants have started an online donation fund to help them pay for losses caused by the fire.

Tuesday, Nazar had a difficult time answering the judge’s questions. He appeared confused in court.

When the judge asked him if he understood his rights, Nazar answered, “No.”

The judge then asked him if he understood a video that instructs inmates on their rights before appearing in court for their arraignments. Nazar answered, “I’m pretty sure I understand my rights.”

Vanderwall postponed Nazar’s arraignment until Thursday so the defendant can speak with an attorney who can explain his rights. The defendant on Tuesday did not enter a plea to the charges.

The judge then asked Nazar if he could afford to hire an attorney, and Nazar responded, “I don’t know.” When the judge asked him if he has a job, Nazar said, “I run a ranch. ... I have a farm.”

The judge appointed the Public Defender’s Office to represent Nazar. The defendant’s bail amount will remain at $500,000, but the judge ordered a bail review hearing to take place Thursday. The attorneys then will have an opportunity to discuss changing the defendant’s bail amount.

The fire occurred in the 400 block of North Verduga Road, just east of Turlock. It’s the same property where a deputy fatally shot William Nazar two years ago after he exchanged gunfire with deputies. A published obituary indicates William and George Nazar are brothers.

As the fire burned the home Sunday, George Nazar remained holed up inside his nearby home for about an hour until he surrendered.

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