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DA: Grand jury indicts Phoenix arson suspect on 32 counts

A Jackson County grand jury has officially charged the man accused of starting a fire behind a Phoenix neighborhood on the night the Almeda Fire burned north from Ashland.

Posted: Sep 15, 2020 1:30 PM
Updated: Sep 15, 2020 1:34 PM

PHOENIX, Ore. — A Jackson County grand jury has officially charged the man accused of starting a fire behind a Phoenix neighborhood on the night the Almeda Fire burned north from Ashland, the county District Attorney's office announced on Tuesday.

The indictment included a total of 32 counts — two counts of Arson in the First Degree, 15 counts of Criminal Mischief in the First Degree, 14 counts of Recklessly Endangering Another Person, and one count for Unlawful Possession of Methamphetamine. Only the last charge is a new addition.

41-year-old Michael Jarrod Bakkela was arraigned in Jackson County Circuit Court on Monday. Appearing via a video monitor from the county jail, Bakkela entered an initial plea of "not guilty."

Bakkela's bail has been set at $5 million. An out-of-county public defender will be appointed for him.

"The Jackson County Circuit Court will schedule a future appearance for the defendant to be arraigned on the indictment," the DA's office said. "Due to the pending criminal proceedings in this case, no further facts will be released regarding the incident."

Deputies and troopers from Oregon State Police arrived behind Quail Lane in Phoenix last Tuesday night to find Bakkela standing near "a very large fire" that was threatening several homes, the Sheriff's Office said in a statement. Bakkela reportedly denied starting the fire.

The Sheriff's Office has maintained that this case is considered separate from the investigation into the Almeda Fire's origin, but that both have been investigated by the Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit (MADIU).

Bakkela has an extensive criminal history in Jackson County alone — including a mix of misdemeanor drug charges and more serious felonies  — though no previous charges for arson.

This is a developing story and will be updated with more details as they emerge.

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