For Immediate Release
ATF Agents Honored with Hero Awards
ESCONDIDO, Calif. – North San Diego Business Chamber recognized Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Special Agents Geoffrey Rice and Matt Beals today at its Hero Awards ceremony. The Hero Awards honor the dedicated officers, first responders and public safety leaders who have gone above and beyond in their duties.
Top law enforcement leaders to include San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore, San Diego Fire Chief Brian Fennessy, District Attorney Summer Stephan and Escondido Police Chief Craig Carter were in attendance to recognize the individuals who make our community safer.
Rice was recognized for his investigative work targeting gang members in Escondido. Rice’s work led to the arrest of two defendants for murder - one of which he assisted in locating in Mexico and was extradited to the United States. Of the two defendants, one pleaded guilty to murder and one pleaded guilty to narcotics and firearms charges.
Beals was recognized for his work on the murder-by-arson conviction of Andrew Hollis, 65. Hollis set the February 2015 fire that destroyed his home and killed his 74-year-old wife, Gertrudes Hollis.
“These are top-of-the-line agents committed to serving the public,” said ATF Los Angeles Special Agent in Charge Eric Harden. “They are devoted to the job and are highly regarded by their colleagues. They deserve to be publicly celebrated. It is wonderful they are being honored for their work and dedication to these outstanding cases, which both resulted in significant prison sentences.”
Rice’s Hero Award
Beginning in 2016, Rice, along with Escondido Police Department, began targeting violent Escondido Diablos and the West Side street gang members focusing on the shooters.
Alberto Curiel, a documented Diablo gang member, and Javier Seda, an associate, were determined to be the suspects in the murder of Fabian Arellano, a documented West Side gang member. Rice and detectives built a cases against the gang members who used firearms for murder and intimidation while furthering their drug trafficking activities. Curiel was arrested in March 2016. During the investigation, Rice identified Seda as the
main suspect in the Arellano murder. Seda fled to Mexico shortly after Arellano’s murder. Rice and investigators tracked Seda to a remote town in the outskirts of Guadalajara, Mexico. In July 2016, ATF agents in Mexico and Mexican law enforcement counterparts located and arrested Seda. He was later extradited to the United States.
On Feb. 27, 2017, Seda pleaded guilty in state court to the Arellano murder and was sentenced to 30 years to life. The next day, Curiel pleaded guilty in state court and was sentenced to eight years for dealing narcotics while armed.
Beals’ Hero Award
On. Feb. 22, 2015, a fire ravaged the Hollis’ residence in Oceanside. Gertrudes Hollis was found fully clothed and dead in the bathtub with the shower water running. It was determined she died of smoke inhalation and extensive thermal burn injuries.
Andrew Hollis was air transported to the hospital for severe burns. He told investigators he awoke to the smell of fire and received his burns while trying to rescue his trapped wife
Beals, an ATF certified fire investigator, led a team with the Oceanside Fire Department (OFD) and the Oceanside Police Department (OPD) that processed the fire scene. The team conducted a detailed technical examination to include burn patterns on the residence, and the charred remains of the deceased and Andrew Hollis.
Fire debris, clothing and additional evidence samples were submitted to the ATF Forensic Science Laboratory and the ATF Fire Research Laboratory. Tests identified the presence of an ignitable liquid on Andrew Hollis’ jacket - worn the night of the fire. Beals and investigators determined the fire was a result of arson and classified it as incendiary.
Beals conducted the first of its kind, peer-reviewed, published testing illustrating the length of time an ignitable liquid would remain on unburned clothing. Testing revealed the ignitable liquid, found on Andrew Hollis’ jacket, would remain identifiable by no more than 48 hours. This was key, and the testing was admissible. The testing proved the ignitable liquid was not from a spill months prior to the fire. Andrew Hollis’ defense claimed the liquid was leftover from the use of a charcoal grill months before the tragic death of Gertrudes Hollis.
Almost two years from the date of the anniversary of the fire, Andrew Hollis had a two-week trial. During the trial Beals’ expert testimony was pivotal. On Feb. 28, 2017, a jury convicted Andrew Hollis of murder-by-arson and sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
More information on ATF and its programs is at www.atf.gov