A man accused of setting a dozen fires in San Diego over a two-hour period after becoming upset with paramedics will be examined by doctors to see if he's mentally competent to stand trial, a judge ruled today.
On the day his preliminary hearing was to be held, the attorney for Joseph Benenati told Judge Robert Trentacosta that he wanted his client evaluated.
A doctor will assess whether Benenati understands the charges against him and can assist his lawyer at trial. A hearing on the findings is scheduled for July 26.
Criminal proceedings will be reinstated if a judge rules Benenati is mentally competent for trial. If not, the defendant would be sent to a state mental hospital until his competency is restored.
Deputy District Attorney Allen Brown said at Benenati's arraignment in April that the defendant got into a verbal argument with two paramedics last October, then got into another skirmish with them in February near a 7-Eleven store.
A week or so later, Benenati went to Fire Department headquarters and demanded to speak to the paramedics, Brown said.
As a result, the Fire Department sought a restraining order that was served on the defendant on April 3, the prosecutor said.
Benenati is accused of setting the 12 fires in North Park between 12:30 and 2:45 a.m. on April 5, damaging four commercial structures, two vehicles, a shed and a fence.
Investigators determined they were "similar fires," started in the same way by a man riding a bicycle, Brown said.
Benenati was arrested at his home in University Heights April 10.
He is charged with arson to a structure, arson to personal property and arson to an inhabited dwelling and faces nearly 43 years in prison if convicted.
No one was injured in the arson series, Brown said.
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