Two convicted of arson for Turlock’s Red Steer Restaurant fire

Firefighters hose down the Red Steer Restaurant in Turlock, which caught fire early on May 28, 2009.
Firefighters hose down the Red Steer Restaurant in Turlock, which caught fire early on May 28, 2009. Modesto Bee file

Two men have been convicted of arson for a fire that destroyed a longstanding Turlock eatery on Golden State Boulevard.

Authorities believe Tracy Smith and his cousin Jeremy Britt burned down the Red Steer Restaurant to cash in on its insurance policy. Smith and his family owned the restaurant, and after the fire, the family opened a Red Steer Restaurant in downtown Modesto, but the business has since closed.

Moments before their trial was scheduled to start with jury selection Tuesday, the defendants both pleaded no contest to a felony charge of arson of a building. The charge comes with a sentence of two to six years in prison.

As part of a plea deal with prosecutors, Smith and Britt were sentenced to 180 days in jail, Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley said Wednesday. The defendants also were ordered to pay restitution, and they will be registered arson offenders for life.

Smith and Britt also must serve three years of probation and are restricted from owning or possessing incendiary devices, guns or ammunition, Shipley said. The judge ordered them to surrender at the Stanislaus County Jail on Jan. 30.

The Red Steer, on Golden State Boulevard near Main Street, drew a loyal crowd for its roast beef, tri-tip and pastrami sandwiches. The restaurant had been at that location for decades.

Scott Soiseth and his wife, Lynette, operated the restaurant with their family. Turlock police said at the time of his arrest that Tracy Smith was the Soiseths’ son-in-law.

The fire occurred about 4:15 a.m. May 28, 2009. It took firefighters about two hours to control it. The fire destroyed the restaurant’s roof and interior.

The blaze caused $1 million in damage, authorities have said. The court has not determined how much Smith and Britt will be ordered to pay in restitution.

Smith and Britt were arrested in July 2009 and later released on bail as they awaited prosecution.

Initially, Britt was charged with aggravated arson for having a prior arson conviction. That charge was dropped as part of the plea deal. Court records show Britt was sentenced in 2005 to 16 months in state prison for arson in Kern County.

While awaiting trial, Smith launched a Turlock-based real estate development company called Consolidated Reliance and serves as its CEO. Smith still faces five felony counts in two separate criminal cases on suspicion of writing bad checks and is scheduled to return to court Nov. 13.