Coroner releases names of Sierra Dawn fire victims

Timeline indicates aunt may have been alive inside burning building

Chris Smith / The Valley Chronicle
The county coroner identified the two women who died in the 1645 W. Johnstown Ave. fire Dec. 29 as Linda Arnold, 79, and Saundra Jay, 54.

■ By Chris Smith / Advisory Editor

The Riverside County Coroner released the names this week of the two women relatives who died Dec. 29 in a fire in Sierra Dawn Estates in what is believed to be a murder-suicide.
The body of Linda Arnold, 79, was found by firefighters inside the burned-out double-wide manufactured home at 1645 W. Johnstown Ave., in Hemet.
Her niece, Saundra Jay, 54, was rushed to Hemet Valley Medical Center after firemen located the woman, burned and unconscious – but alive inside the burning home.
Jay died in the hospital at 8:46 p.m., about 45 minutes after firemen arrived at the Johnstown Avenue address where they were met by excited neighbors who told them that two people were trapped inside the burning building. Firemen bravely suited up and entered the burning structure to find them. They pulled the niece to safety, but she died later in the hospital. Coroner’s officials estimated the time of her injuries to be incurred at 7:52 p.m., nearly an hour before her death.
That time of injury was the same as when officials estimate her aunt incurred fatal burns in the fire. But the coroner placed Arnold’s time of death at 9:01 p.m., about an hour after the fire started.
Arnold’s body, however, wasn’t discovered right away. While firemen found the niece and carried her to safety, Arnold couldn’t be located. Firemen had to do an extensive search of the destroyed building in order to locate her after extinguishing the fire. However, her time of death suggests she may have been alive, inside the building, for about an hour while firemen fought the blaze from outside. It’s not clear how the coroner could establish her time of death at exactly 9:01 p.m.
Police said evidence supports their belief that Jay intentionally set the fire that killed both her and her aunt. Apparently eerie social network posts by the niece gave away her intention to end her distress caused by taking care of her elderly aunt. Family members reportedly tried to intervene but were too late in preventing the tragedy.

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