Testimony in the trial of double-murder suspect Ulisses Rodriguez began yesterday with the jury hearing descriptions of the roaring fire that consumed a vehicle with two bodies in the back.

Moses Danzer, the first person to call 911 about the blaze, testified he was driving past a large turnout on Briceland Road on Aug. 14, 2018, when he saw a parked SUV on fire, the flames soaring up to 50 feet and “brushing the limbs of a fir tree.”

Danzer turned around and drove about 2 minutes to a place with cellphone service. He called 911 and then Peter Lawsky, chief of the Telegraph Ridge Volunteer Fire Department.


The fire threatening the trees was about a half-mile from Danzer’s home, and his main concern at the time was getting his dogs out of the house. It was after Rodriguez was arrested, with his mugshot posted in local media, that he remembered what he saw on Briceland Road before he saw the fire: a man standing behind a sedan parked in an area “with barely any shoulder.”

“It seemed like a bizarre place for someone to park,” Danzer said under questioning by Deputy District Attorney Luke Bernthal. Danzer didn’t mention the man on the road, and his resemblance to Rodriguez, until he spoke with an investigator on the phone just a few weeks ago.

Under cross-examination by defense attorney Andrea Sullivan, Danzer said he had never been shown a photo lineup.

Rodriguez, 27, is accused of shooting Tiffany Ellebrecht and Jeremy Kuemmel to death when they returned to his marijuana grow site after he had kicked them off the property. Some plants had gone missing and he reportedly blamed the couple.

In opening statements, Bernthal said two workers at the grow site heard an argument and then “multiple gunshots.” Witness “John Doe” will testify Rodriguez forced him to help him with the bodies, which were wrapped in a tow chain and dragged into Kuemmel’s green Ford Expedition.

Bernthal told the jury that at the grow site, blood from both victims was found. Law enforcement also found seven .357-magnum shell casings. When Rodriguez was arrested about a week later in Chico, investigators found a box of .357 shells, a .357 gun with seven bullet chambers and a cellphone photo of Rodriguez holding the weapon.

Jurors also saw a video, taken at the Shell gas station in Redway, of Rodriguez filling up a gasoline can at the pump. The video was filmed about 90 minutes before the fire was spotted.

Lawsky, the volunteer fire chief, said when he arrived the SUV was “fully engulfed.”

“Not only was the vehicle burning but the ground was on fire,” Lawsky recalled. “Flames were coming out all the windows … it looked like gasoline had been used.”

A butane torch was found on the front floor of the Expedition.

Another witness was California Highway Patrol Officer Keven Hayslett, the first law enforcement officer at the scene of the fire. Hayslett said that after firefighters doused the flames, he inspected the SUV to determine whether there was “anything of value that had not been burned.”

“It was obvious that everything in the vehicle was burnt and unrecognizable,” he said. Then he observed “two masses” in the back of the SUV. He found the masses were bodies, and the bodies were wrapped in a chain attached to the rear of the car. At that point he called the Sheriff’s Office.

Defense attorney Sullivan, in her opening statement, suggested there were other culpable people involved.

“It is not the law of the land,” she said, “and it has never been the law of the land, that the first person to make it to an attorney is not prosecuted.”

Sullivan also described the slain couple as homeless and, at the time they were killed, so high on methamphetamine that one expert had never seen levels so toxic.

“Is it possible this could have anything to do with their deaths?” she said.

Testimony was expected to continue Tuesday morning before Judge Gregory Elvine-Kreis.