A Shasta County judge ruled Tuesday that the Palo Alto woman charged with setting the Deer on fire in September is mentally incapable of standing trial.
Alexandra Suverneva, 31, is accused of starting a forest fire north of Redding that injured three firefighters, destroyed 185 buildings and charred more than 8,500 acres.
Suverneva graduated from California Institute of Technology in 2012 with a BA in Chemistry and Biology and worked as a Chemistry Research Fellow for Bay Area companies from 2016 to 2019, according to her LinkedIn profile.
She was arrested in September and charged with arson in connection with the fire.
Judge Adam Ryan ruled Tuesday that Suverneva was mentally incompetent to stand trial and suspended the prosecution indefinitely, said Briona Haney, a spokeswoman for the Shasta County District Attorney’s Office.
According to the decree. Suverneva cannot help her lawyers in defense, because she does not understand the trial.
Last month, a judge ordered two psychologists to assess Soverneva’s mental health. Both found her unable to stand trial, according to the district attorney.
Sovereign’s lawyer Gregg Cohen first expressed doubts about the legal capacity of his client.
Now Suverneva will be examined for placement in a state psychiatric hospital, where she will undergo treatment, with the possibility of recognizing her legal capacity to stand trial in the future.
Cohen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
According to Monterey County Assistant District Attorney Chris Knight, Suverneva was also charged with arson in Monterey County in connection with the August 8 fire.
Suverneva claimed that on September 22, the day the fire started, she tried to boil water from a stream containing bear urine, according to a criminal lawsuit.
She told investigators for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that she was traveling to Canada when she felt thirsty and found a pool of water near a dried-up stream bed, according to court records.
After she tried to filter the liquid with a tea bag, she tried to start a fire and boil water, she said.
She told the authorities that she drank the water and walked up the hill until she saw smoke and “planes dropping pink objects,” after which she contacted the fire department.
Workers at the quarry reported seeing a woman matching Suvernyova’s description “acting unreasonably” near the site of the fire.
Court documents show that the woman continued to walk east into the thicket, leaving behind two cans of carbon dioxide and a battery on the dirt road.
Later that night, fire officials found Suverneva as they battled the growing flames and assessed her for possible dehydration.
At the time, she was carrying a lighter and “a pink and white object containing a green leafy substance that she admitted to smoking that day,” said University of California fire officer Matt Alexander.
According to the criminal complaint, she also had carbon dioxide cartridges that matched those found near the quarry.
After graduating from Palo Alto High School in 2009, Suverneva was a research assistant and teaching assistant while attending California Institute of Technology, and also wrote for the school newspaper, according to her LinkedIn.
She was a PhD student in environmental chemistry at the State University of New York College of Environmental and Forestry Sciences from 2014 to 2015.
From 2016 to 2019, she was a Chemistry Research Fellow at Nanosyn in Santa Clara, then worked for eight months as a Medicinal Chemistry Research Fellow at Gilead Sciences in Foster City.
Suverneva is not the first Gulf resident associated with academia to be tasked with igniting wildfires this year.
Former college professor Gary Stephen Maynard was indicted in connection with a series of arson attacks in federal forest lands, including near where the massive Dixie fire broke out in Northern California.
Maynard is reported to have worked at several California universities, including Santa Clara University.