Sus­pect calls hay fires about ‘zom­bie apoc­a­lypse’

The Mercury News Weekend - - LOCAL NEWS - By Ja­son Green ja­­yare­anews­ Con­tact Ja­son Green at 408-920- 5006.

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.

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