Suspect calls hay fires about ‘zombie apocalypse’
HALF MOON BAY » The field of burning hay bales certainly looked like something out of a zombie apocalypse. And a zombie apocalypse is what the alleged arsonist said the fire at Highway 1 and Seymour Street in Half Moon Bay was about, according to San Mateo County prosecutors.
That and other bizarre details emerged Wednesday, a day after Monica Berlin, 39, of El Granada, pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony arson and one count of felony evading. Authorities said Berlin torched more than 1,600 hay bales at the location on June 26 and July 3. At the first fire — and before she was identified as a suspect — she reportedly told firefighters, “this was about the zombie apocalypse,” prosecutors said. Berlin also told a neighbor after the second fire that she burned the hay to “prevent a cult from committing a massacre,” according to prosecutors.
Authorities zeroed in on Berlin and tried to stop her on Highway 92 near Canada Road on July 5. Berlin drove off in her 2004 Volvo station wagon at 100mph to Atherton, where shewas taken into custody, prosecutors said. Berlin livestreamed the pursuit on Facebook.
“I have all these police chasing me, and I didn’t do anything illegal, and I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “Oh my God, you guys. Like I was covering this criminal conspiracy with the police department, and now they’re all chasing me, and it’s so scary.”
San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Rosemerry Blankswade said she wasn’t aware of any investigation that would corroborate Berlin’s claims of a conspiracy.
The two fires caused nearly $20,000 in damage. Berlin could be sentenced to as much as five years in prison if convicted of the charges, said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
This isn’t Berlin’s first brush with the law. Wagstaffe said Berlin has racked up a number of misdemeanors since 1997, rangingfrom driving with a suspended license to violating restraining orders. But this is the first time she has been charged with a felony.
“I think one of Ms. Berlin’s attorney’s first steps will be to assess whether mental illness played a role,” he said.
The Private Defender Program has been appointed to represent Berlin, who is due back in court for a preliminary hearing on Thursday. She is being held in San Mateo County jail on $100,000 bail.