NEWPORT — A man was sentenced to 75 months in prison this week after pleading guilty to a charge of manslaughter in the second degree.
Jonathan Leo Mendez Gonzalez, 27, appeared for sentencing at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 13, before Lincoln County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Branford.
Charges against Mendez Gonzalez stem from an incident on Aug. 5, 2018, when he intentionally set fire to a room at the Knight’s Inn, located at 1823 N Coast Highway in Newport. Newport firefighters were dispatched to the fire at 3:15 a.m. that day. When emergency personnel arrived on the scene, they saw large flames and thick smoke coming from the southwest corner of the second story.
While firefighters battled the blaze, police officers entered the second floor and searched for people who were trapped or in distress. They found a man suffering in his hotel room with critical burns to his body. That man, later identified as Brenton E. Gray, was taken to Samaritan Pacific Communities Hospital in Newport and later transported to a burn center in Portland. He ended up dying from his injuries. Two other guests at the motel were treated for smoke inhalation and were then released.
Following an investigation, the cause of the fire was determined to be arson. Newport police detectives identified Mendez Gonzalez, from Earlimart, Calif., as a person of interest, and they reached out to the Tulare County (California) Sheriff’s Office for help. Over the course of two months, Tulare County detectives worked with the Oregon detectives on the homicide investigation, and they eventually arrested Mendez Gonzalez in Earlimart in early October 2018.
Mendez Gonzalez was brought back to Lincoln County and lodged in the Lincoln County Jail on a variety of charges. These included aggravated murder, murder, arson in the first degree, arson in the second degree, manslaughter in the first degree, manslaughter in the second degree, criminally negligent homicide, assault in the third degree, criminal mischief in the first degree, criminal mischief in the second degree, theft in the first degree and reckless burning.
In May of last year, Mendez Gonzalez entered a plea of not guilty to each of these charges. A 12-person jury trial had been scheduled for May of this year, but on Dec. 18, 2019, Mendez Gonzalez agreed to enter a guilty plea to the charge of manslaughter in the second degree, with all other charges being dismissed. The acceptance of that plea agreement led to his sentencing this week.
During Monday’s sentencing hearing, there was also a discussion regarding restitution for the fire. Knights Inn, doing business as AAA Hotel Management, Inc., is claiming $160,307.42 in damages, and the motel’s insurance company, Capital Insurance Group, doing business as Eagle West Insurance Company, of Portland, is claiming $1,704,502.56 in damages.
However, the restitution was left open, as is allowed under state law, and a separate hearing to decide this issue has been scheduled for March 30. Mendez Gonzalez was ordered to attend that hearing.
Following sentencing, Mendez Gonzalez was turned over to the custody of the Oregon Department of Corrections. His sentence falls under Measure 11 guidelines, so he must serve the entire 75 months (six years, three months), however, he will get credit for time served. After he completes his sentence, Mendez Gonzalez must serve three years of post-prison supervision.