A man charged with murder and arson for allegedly setting a fire that killed his parents and sister at the family’s Logan Heights home had previously made statements about burning the house down and set fires around the home on several prior occasions, according to preliminary hearing testimony Wednesday.
Wilber Romero, 27, is accused of setting the Oct. 13, 2019, blaze that sparked at around 4:30 a.m. and killed the defendant’s father, Jose Antonio Romero, 44; his mother, Nicalasa “Nico” Maya-Romero, 46, and his sister, Iris Romero, 21.
The defendant’s father was found dead inside the home at 3114 Clay Ave., while his mother and sister died at a hospital.
Romero’s then-24-year-old sister, Wendy, and his then-17-year-old brother, Angel, were injured in the fire. Bystanders pulled Wendy out of the home, while Angel escaped through a window.
The preliminary hearing will determine whether Romero will stand trial for charges that could have him facing life imprisonment if convicted. The hearing will resume Thursday with additional testimony. Romero remains in custody without bail.
Police witnesses testified Wednesday that the surviving family members told investigators that Wilber had a history of setting fire to portions of the home or objects surrounding the residence.
Angel Romero told a San Diego police investigator that Wilber set fire to the house’s roof a few weeks prior to the fatal blaze, and had set fires around the house on about a dozen prior occasions, according to Detective James Barrera of the San Diego Police Department. Angel also allegedly told Barrera that his brother had previously talked about “burning the house down and burning everybody in it.”
Wendy Romero told SDPD Detective Marco Perez that Wilber had previously set fire to plants and a trash can, and also burned his clothes in a barbecue on one occasion.
During the blaze, Wendy said she saw Wilber outside the home running back and forth in the street yelling at her to open the door. She told Perez that she screamed for him to help her and he “ignored her” and ran down the street toward a nearby park.
Prosecutors say that during the fire, Wilber Romero slipped out of a side door with the family dog and escaped the fire unharmed. He was detained near the scene.
Detective Gary Phillips testified that a lighter was found on the defendant on Oct. 13, and that Romero was unscathed, without any burns or soot on his clothing or body.
Romero was not booked into custody on suspicion of murder until Oct. 18.
Prior to his arrest, Romero appeared in local television news interviews denying any involvement with the fire and stating he tried to save his family, but was forced to save himself.
Regarding allegations of his involvement, he said in one interview, “You can lock me up, but you’re not going to take me in to say this, `I did it.’ I’m not going to say it because I know I didn’t do it.”
— City News Service