SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A man who has a "serious issue with law enforcement" intentionally set 11 fires in a two-hour period to get back at paramedics and fire officials, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.
Deputy District Attorney Christopher Lawson said Joseph Benenati, now 45, "overreacted" on Nov. 16, 2008, when a paramedic unit apparently cut him off near downtown San Diego.
Lawson said Benenati got behind the paramedic truck with his headlights off, then pulled around the unit and pointed a gun at the emergency medical technician driving the rig.
"It is an overreaction and that's an understatement," the prosecutor said in his opening statement.
Lawson told the jury that the defendant approached the same paramedic unit on Jan, 23, 2009, as it was parked at a 7-Eleven convenience store in Normal Heights.
"He said, 'I just wanted to see who you were,"' Lawson said.
Police were called to the scene, but no gun was found on Benenati, the prosecutor said.
On Jan, 28, 2009, Benenati showed up at the San Diego Fire-Rescue corporate office, where one of the EMTs from the paramedic unit was filling out a report, Lawson said.
The defendant was agitated and wanted information about fire units and noise they were making near his home in University Heights, according to the prosecutor.
Benenati was served with a temporary restraining order on April 3, 2009, in which he was ordered not to harass fire officials, Lawson said. Two days later, Benenati set 11 fires in North Park, according to the prosecutor.
"The defendant went on a rampage," he said. "He tried to burn North Park down."
Cars, fences and carports were set ablaze, with one fire sending smoke into a home, Lawson said.
Defense attorney Lei-Chala Wilson told the jury that Benenati didn't set the fires.
The attorney said Benenati was called to fire corporate headquarters only after being accused of pointing a gun at the EMT.
Wilson said her client will testify at his trial.
"He's going to deny he did it," the attorney said.
Wilson said prosecutors had no physical evidence against Benenati, and only one witness who picked him out of a police lineup.
Benenati is charged with 16 counts of arson and one count of assault with a firearm, Lawson said.
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