Man sentenced to 12 years in prison for church arson

Wave Wire Services

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — A man pleaded no contest Nov. 30 in connection with an arson fire that destroyed a historic church and injured three firefighters battling the blaze last year.

Carlos Francisco Diaz, now 25, was immediately sentenced to 12 years in state prison in connection with his no contest plea to a felony count of arson causing great bodily injury stemming from the early-morning fire Sept. 11, 2022, at Victory Baptist Church, according to Deputy District Attorney Joy Roberts.

Diaz admitted an allegation that two of the firefighters suffered great bodily injury, according to the prosecutor. A restitution hearing is set March 12.

The blaze was reported at the two-story church at 4802 S. McKinley Ave. at 2:22 a.m., according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

About 150 firefighters were sent to the fire scene, according to Nicholas Prange of the LAFD.

“Crews initially made entry to find heavy smoke inside the structure,” Prange said. “As firefighters made entry, inevitably introducing more air to the conditions inside, fire behavior worsened quickly. Approximately 30 minutes after the arrival of firefighters, there was a structural collapse inside, trapping several LAFD members.”

Two mayday calls were sent out over the radio for trapped personnel, and nearby crews quickly rescued three firefighters, officials said. One was taken to a hospital in moderate condition, a second finished battling the fire and was later hospitalized in fair condition, and a third followed up with care on his own after the fire, Prange said.

After the collapse inside the building, crews withdrew into defensive operations, pouring water onto the flames from outside the building. The fire was extinguished in an hour and 40 minutes, Prange said.

“LAFD arson investigators and the multi-agency House of Worship Arson Task Force initiated an investigation into the fire’s cause,” according to a statement released last year by the fire department. “Initial information did not immediately reveal any evidence of an intentionally set fire; however, their persistence later uncovered security footage to help connect the dots.”

The joint investigation included personnel from the Los Angeles School Police Department and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Investigators were aided by eyewitnesses, the LAFD reported.

Diaz was arrested a week after the fire and has remained behind bars since then, according to jail records.

Victory Baptist Church was a spiritual center of Los Angeles’ Black community for decades, and a site of major significance for gospel music and the civil rights movement. The church was founded by Arthur Atlas Peters on Easter Sunday in 1943, and moved into the McKinley Avenue building in 1944.

Pastor W. Edward Jenkins vowed last year that the church would not fold its tent.

The church has since opened a satellite campus, according to a posting on Facebook.