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Update on death investigation related to Panoche Fire

The San Benito County Sheriff's Office issued an update regarding three deaths during the recent Panoche Fire.

Information provided by San Benito County Sheriff's Office Operations Commander Captain Eric Taylor.

The San Benito County Sheriff's Office is continuing to investigate the cause of the death of the Panoche Fire that occurred early Tuesday morning in the 20000 block of Panoche Road.

There seems to be some confusion on local social media regarding a recent story on the fire investigation in the Panoche Valley. We hope this adds clarification to the story and comments that have followed.

The San Benito County Sheriff's Office is the chief law enforcement agency in San Benito County. One of our primary functions is to investigate criminal matters. We are also mandated to provide other services such as acting as the Coroner for all of San Benito County. Though we investigate crimes and determine cause of death in every death in the county, we do not investigate, contain, or suppress fires.

In our role as the Coroner, we responded to the 20000 block of Panoche Road after fire crews located what appeared to be the remains of a deceased person. Our role in this matter is to determine cause of death, and to determine if a criminal act may have occurred that lead to the death.

We responded immediately and recovered the remains of three decedents. All evidence leads us to believe the remains recovered (burned beyond recognition) are those of a 27-year-old mother, her 3-year-old son, and her 8-month-old daughter. We cannot legally release the names of the persons we believe have died as a result of the fire. That can only occur after the pathologist (Medical Examiner) makes a legal determination of identity. That takes time in these cases due to the condition of the remains. We would rather not be more graphic than that. It should be noted San Benito County does not have a pathologist in its employ. Therefore, we contract with the Medical Examiner's Office in Santa Clara County for pathology services.

CalFire, and Hollister Fire crews were on-scene and a great help in dealing with the fire suppression. We are not in a position to dictate what agency handles the fire investigation as it relates to the ORIGIN of the fire. However, based on current information we have been able to compile through evidence and interviews, we are confident, at this point, NO CRIMINAL ACTIVITY OCCURRED that led to this tragedy. This is a terrible, sad tragedy. Our hearts are heavy for the victims and their families.

The activity and response from each fire agency was swift and honorable. Nobody involved is failing to take responsibility for their role in this fire. We are all working together to piece together what led to this horrible event.

As we develop more information, and a conclusion as to what exactly led to this fire, we will all work together to release that information to the public. We are all professionals working together on behalf of the victims and their families.

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