The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Jury makes $2.9 million award in house burning

Sam Valdez, in prison, participates by telephone


After deliberating for an hour on Monday, a jury awarded Fred and Kathleen Cantrell over $2.9 million dollars in a civil suit with Sam Valdez, who set fire to their home after they gave evidence in his divorce trial.

Valdez chose to represent himself in the civil suit and was not in attendance. He is serving a 20 year sentence at Clallam Bay Correction Center for arson, solicitation for murder, delivery of marijuana, and possession of marijuana with intent to manufacture or deliver.

Superior Court Judge Douglas Goelz allowed him to participate by phone.

According to a court official, inmates can only make collect calls. The calls are automatically disconnected after 20 minutes. Valdez would have to call back every 20 minutes for the duration of the trial.

Valdez called back after the first connection ended. At some point during the second twenty minutes, the connection was lost.

Valdez never called back.

Judge Goelz waited about 10 minutes before he decided to move forward. The trial was expected to last through Tuesday, but without cross-examination, it ended Monday afternoon.

In the early morning hours of July 9, 2014, Fred Cantrell, who is legally blind, was wakened by a loud explosion and a sparkling light on leaves outside his window, which he could see from the corner of his eye. He later compared the sound of the inferno to the afterburner of a J57 engine.

Kathleen was asleep in another room. She was wearing ear plugs, because the noise from the machine she used for her sleep apnea frequently kept her awake. Fred struggled to wake her.

“It was terrifying,” Fred said.

The two ran outside, she in a nightgown, he in his “BVDs”, without shoes. The gravel driveway tore up their feet, but they kept moving, Fred tried to head back into the home to get their two dogs out, but the fire, the heat, the noise and Kathleen kept him away.

Fred got his mother out of her house next door by breaking the door off its hinges.

A car, pickup, and a brand new RV were also on fire. Fortunately, their Ford Ranger was not. Attempting to move it, Fred nearly drove it off a bank.

Kathleen is an artist and Fred was a gemologist, silversmith, and goldsmith before he lost his sight. He was also a hunter, and had a collection of guns he was saving for his son.

Fred estimated that he lost $50,000 worth of black opals in the fire, as well as a one carat diamond, which was never found. There was a lot more. Though he couldn’t practice his craft anymore, he had never gotten rid of his supplies. Kathleen lost artwork and supplies as well.

The remains of Fred’s 14 year old Blue Heeler were later found in a bedroom closet where he went to hide when he got scared. The remains of Kathleen’s 13 year old Shar-pei were found in the front room.

Their home has since been rebuilt, but the Cantrells admitted that they are changed and remain fearful after the events of July 9, 2014.


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