Trial Begins Nine Years After Phoenix FF's Death

PHOENIX -- Opening statements in the trial of the Ft. Hood soldier arrested in connection with a fire that killed Phoenix firefighter Bret Tarver nine years ago got under way Wednesday morning. Christopher Benitez is...


PHOENIX --

Opening statements in the trial of the Ft. Hood soldier arrested in connection with a fire that killed Phoenix firefighter Bret Tarver nine years ago got under way Wednesday morning.

Christopher Benitez is facing charges of first- degree murder and arson.

Prosecutors say Benitez was only 15 when he set fire to cardboard boxes outside Phoenixs Southwest Supermarket in March 2001.

Arson investigators said an anonymous tip placed him at the scene right before the fire, and just days after he had been arrested there for stealing beer.

Phoenix fire investigators said the flames quickly spread to the grocery store where more than 100 firefighters rushed to get things under control.

Firefighters said Bret Tarver, an eight-year veteran of the force, was overcome by the smoke and flames and ran out of air. He died and several other firefighters were also injured as the stores ceiling caved in.

Phoenix fire department revamped its safety training and gear and has become a model for departments across the county in the wake of Tarvers death.

One of the big changes was getting audible safety timers on air tanks that alert firefighters when whoevers wearing them is immobile for an extended period of time.

Phoenix firefighters said their investigators never gave up on this case, even though it took eight years to make an arrest.

By the time investigators won an indictment, Benitez was serving in the Army in Iraq.

He was arrested when he came home to Texas in July 2009.

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