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Firefighter sentenced for child molestation


Firefighter sentenced for child molestation

17-year veteran of the Berkeley department given 63 years to life

Jul 10, 2007

Bay City News

Former Berkeley firefighter Luis Ponce was sentenced Monday to 63 years to life in prison for his conviction on 16 felony counts of molesting two young girls at his Grass Valley home.

Ponce, 50, was a paramedic supervisor who worked for the Berkeley Fire Department for 17 years before resigning in February 2006 after charges were filed against him in Nevada and Alameda counties.

The charges against Ponce were based on videotapes found in his home and in his locker at the Berkeley Fire Department. The tapes showed him molesting two young girls.

Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Charles O'Rourke said he sought a term of 135 years to life for Ponce, but Judge Ersel Edwards sentenced him to a lesser term.

However, O'Rourke said, "I won't complain" about Ponce's sentence because Ponce won't be eligible for parole until he's more than 100 years old.

According to O'Rourke, one of the victims in the trial in his county was only 18 to 20 months old when she was molested, and the other victim was between 2 and 3 years old. The offenses occurred between 1998 and 2003, he said.

Jurors deliberated for less than six hours before delivering their verdict May 23.

Ponce and his ex-wife, who is a nurse, ran a facility for foster children at their home.

Ponce's ex-wife filed a restraining order against him in February 2006 and filed for divorce the following month.

In Alameda County, Ponce faces 57 misdemeanor counts based on 30,000 images of pornography involving very young children. The images were found in his Berkeley Fire Department locker.

Authorities chose to prosecute Ponce first in Nevada County because the charges he faces there are more serious.

Alameda County District Attorney officials have said they probably would drop their charges against Ponce if he got a life term in Nevada County.

According to O'Rourke, Ponce was convicted of eight counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child involving oral copulation; one count of aggravated sexual assault of a child; one count of a forcible lewd act on a child; three counts of a lewd or lascivious act upon a child; and three counts of sexual penetration by a foreign object when the victim is unconscious of the nature of the act.

Ponce came under suspicion when a female colleague at the Berkeley Fire Department's training center at 997 Cedar St. was cleaning out her office, where she worked with him, and found items that she thought contained training material.

Instead, the colleague found compact discs with sexually explicit images of minors, according to Alameda County court records.

As part of their investigation, authorities searched Ponce's locker at the fire station as well as his home on Rattlesnake Road in Grass Valley and allegedly found more evidence of child pornography, including more than 100 computer discs and four videotapes.

Berkeley police Det. Angela Hawk testified in the Nevada County trial about the evidence found in Ponce's locker in Berkeley.

Ponce's attorney, David Billingsley of Hayward, couldn't be reached for comment.

O'Rourke said Ponce filed an appeal of his convictions Monday.

2007 Jul 10