Maxine Montenegro

Maxine Montenegro

The woman suspected of starting a fire in Hanford’s historic China Alley has a date set for preliminary hearing, which will occur in December.

At the Kings County Superior Court, visiting Judge James LaPorte ordered Maxine Montenegro, 37, to return on the afternoon of Dec. 9 for a preliminary hearing, where prosecution will be tasked with presenting enough evidence to justify holding the defendant for the crimes allegedly committed, and to establish probable cause. Tulare attorney Jeffrey Boggs, who represents Montenegro, agreed to this date.

Montenegro is suspected of starting the fire that nearly destroyed the Taoist Temple Museum in China Alley earlier this year. The temple, which is owned and operated by the China Alley Preservation Society, dates back to the late 19th century, and is one of the oldest sites still standing in Kings County.

The fire occurred on the night of May 12, when Montenegro allegedly lit something on fire — believed to be an article of clothing — and stuffed it under the door. The ensuing fire destroyed the staircase and many of the priceless artifacts inside.

An arson investigation was launched the next morning, with surveillance cameras set up across the street as one of their main leads. The suspect was believed to be homeless based on appearance. Detectives then worked with officers from the Homeless Assistance and Resource Team (HART) and spoke to transients in the area, eventually identifying Montenegro as the suspect.

After locating Montenegro, she was questioned about the fire, and felony arson charges were submitted to the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. Currently, she is also facing unrelated burglary charges after being found unconscious in a residence in June.

Montenegro faces 17 years in prison for the arson and 12 years for the burglary. Boggs said that her upcoming court date will address both cases simultaneously.

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