Monday, May 21, 2012


Ernesto "Ernie" Cruz, a high school friend and supporter of Dan Bellardi,  was a California Highway Patrol who took an early retirement from the CHP and formed a security patrol company. His four armed officers were stationed unobtrusively in the darkness around the Bellardi ranch. Once every two hours—the four men checked in on the radio, surveyed their quadrant, and then rotated to new positions. Suddenly, one of the men yelled over the radio, “Fire, Ernie!  Part of the back of the house just lit up like a torch."

Ernie called the county fire district as he ran back toward the house. He was puffing, “You guys look for some garden hoses. I'm going inside to get the kid and the housekeeper out." Wes Bellardi was sick with a cold. The room reeked of cold medicine. Ernie shook the young man, who seemed drugged and helped him mumbling and stumbling out the front door. Then he took off for the housekeeper, who met him whimpering with fear. "Elena, it's a fire, but you're all right," he assured her, then ushered her quickly out the front door to the driveway where Wes sat stunned on the cement. Thanks to the men's quick work, the Bellardi home would be saved and the fire damage would be minimal.

 During the fire crew's mop-up, Ernie Cruz toured the perimeter of the house. Everything was secure except the door from the backyard to the attached garage. The county fire chief told him off the record that arson was a strong possibility. They would later find a single sheet of paper in the tray of the fax machine at Bellardi headquarters,  "The fire was no acident [misspelled]. Belardi [misspelled]must quit north [should be capitalized] California. Next time someone you love will get hurt. AntiCrist [should be antichrist]."

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