Man charged in sexual assault at Utah fire camp agrees to plea deal

This photo taken Aug. 6, 2018, shows a helicopter returning from performing an air operation on the Coal Hollow Fire near U.S. Highway 6. An Idaho prisoner sent to help fight the wildfire in Utah pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery of a woman who also was working to support firefighters. He had been charged with felony rape. | Photo by Evan Cobb/The Daily Herald via Associated Press, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An Idaho inmate accused of sexually assaulting a woman after he was sent to work at a wildfire base camp in Utah has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual battery.

The woman approved the plea deal so she could avoid having to testify in the case, prosecutor Kevin Daniels said Monday.

“After speaking with her and her family, she felt this would hold him accountable to a certain degree while not requiring her to testify,” Daniels said.

Ruben Hernandez, 28, was charged with felony rape in Utah after the woman reported that he assaulted her on Aug. 29 when she rejected his advances in a remote area about 80 miles south of Salt Lake City.

He was part of a program in which low-level offenders nearing parole are temporarily released to help cook and clean at wildfire base camps supervised by two Idaho correctional officers.

Defense attorney Richard Gale said the plea deal is fair and reflects Hernandez’s level of culpability. “We wish the best for the victim,” Gale said.

Ruben Hernandez, an Idaho prison inmate sent to help fight a wildfire, pleaded guilty to sexual battery of a woman who was also working to support firefighters in Utah. He had been charged with felony rape. | Undated photo courtesy of Sanpete County Jail via Associated Press, St. George News

Hernandez could face up to a year in jail when he is sentenced.

Daniels said he plans to ask for the full sentence as well as restitution for therapy or medical bills. Hernandez must also serve out the remainder of his Idaho prison sentence on a drug charge.

Idaho prison spokesman Jeffrey Ray said there has so far been no change to the date Hernandez is eligible for parole, May 2019, or the year when he his full sentence is set to finish, 2023.

An internal review of the incident concluded that officials need to do more to minimize interactions between inmates and other workers at fire camps, Ray said. That includes sending additional prison staff to supervise the inmates at the camps and have them do more frequent checks on the prisoners, he said.

The review discovered that at the Utah fire the inmates’ tents were initially secluded. But as the fire grew, more tents were set up around them, he said. The inmates’ tents should have been moved again to another secluded area, the review found.

Idaho pulled all its inmates back behind bars after the case was filed in August and announced they would review the way they select, train and deploy those inmates.

Most states in the U.S. West have similar programs. In California, hundreds of minimum-security inmates fought on the front lines during the state’s devastating wildfire season this year.

Utah ended its inmate program after men were injured a decade ago. Since the charges were filed, they have closed loopholes that allowed Idaho inmates to help at the Utah wildfire, Daniels said.

Hernandez had been sent to Utah to work on the Coal Hollow Fire. Like many wildfires, it was managed by a special team of federal and state agencies, so county authorities weren’t aware that Idaho inmates were part of the force of about 200 at the time of the assault.

The lightning-sparked blaze scorched about 47 square miles.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!


  • Comment December 26, 2018 at 10:50 pm

    “Hernandez could face up to a year in jail when he is sentenced.”

    So what’s the real story I wonder? Sounds to me like the woman wasn’t raped at all and was maybe just telling stories? Maybe had a few drinks around the camp fire with ol’ Pablo Sanchez there and got a little carried away? Maybe she got a lil too inviting and regretted it after she sobered up? Maybe Pablo has a real way of charming the ladies, even with his limited English?

    1st degree felony rape could be 20 years in prison. But the man will do UP TO 1 year in a county jail? Sounds like a misdemeanor lightweight sexual misconduct charge of some type. So Pablo either had one hell of a lawyer, or the supposed victim was telling tall tales. The question is why?

  • Comment December 26, 2018 at 10:58 pm

    Lying about being raped should get a woman (or man) locked in prison for a long time. I’m not one to usually side with an illegal foreign national, but I despise liars.

    How did felony rape work it’s way down to misdemeanor sexual battery

    “Oh, I guess I wasn’t raped after all. How bout’ that?” Can they maybe teach the young women that a drunken man putting their arm around them in a bar or a drunken pat on the behind doesn’t actually constitute vaginal rape?


    • homer498 December 27, 2018 at 10:34 am

      Way to support the convicted felon because the victim agreed to drop the charge in favor of not showing up on the news with the headline “I was raped by this ugly loser” and now every loser out there knows it. You sound like you may have had an similar experience? I totally agree that convicted “Liars” need to do some serious time in accordance with the time their victim would have served. Maybe we should give them their own special section on the (kidding) Sex Offenders list? I’ll bet that would do it though. But you sound very ummm jaded towards this accuser, and very knowledgeable about lying? Lest we forget how many rapists confess …. ever! So, there’s that too? Maybe this wasn’t the story for your particular blah blah blah.

      • Comment December 27, 2018 at 1:32 pm

        The news media is generally extremely respectful about keeping rape victims’ names out of their reporting unless a victim (or alleged victim) tells them they are ok with it. If the woman even had a shred of credibility a jury would likely convict the illegal if it was actually rape. Her word against his with no other evidence might be enough to convict even, seeing how he’s a felon inmate and also an illegal alien.

        How does an accusation of rape settle with a slap-on-the-wrist groping charge is what I’d like to know. Because they made a huge deal of it at the time. The whole story is just not here, and likely will never be reported.

  • KR567 December 27, 2018 at 3:38 pm

    I’m just curious as what REALLY happened

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.