Police Make Arrest In Suspected Car Arsons

Police in Los Angeles on Monday made an arrest in connection with a string of arson fires that have left that city on edge. Most of the fires were set in parked cars, and some spread to carports, garages and apartments. All Things Considered host Melissa Block talks to reporter Sam Quinones, who is following the story for the Los Angeles Times.

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Today, police in Los Angeles arrested a man in connection with a string of more than 50 arson fires that have left that city on edge. Most of the fires were set in parked cars, and some spread to carports, garages and apartments. Sam Quinones is following the story for the Los Angeles Times and Sam, what else can you tell us about the man who's under arrest?

SAM QUINONES: Well, there's not a whole lot known so far. He's apparently a German citizen, 55 years old, ponytail length hair, driving a minivan with British Columbia plates. We don't know who he is, we don't know the motivation yet in all this, if in fact this is the guy. They have booked him. Initially, he was stopped and detained and questioned as a, quote, "person of interest." But they still have not yet identified him to us, so there's a lot we don't know about this fellow.

BLOCK: Yeah. And is it believed that this is the same man who was seen on a videotape that had been released by the arson task force that's looking into these fires?

QUINONES: Yeah, exactly. The police chief, Charlie Beck, said he feels, quote, "very good" that this is the guy, the same fellow that's connected to most, if not all, these 53 arsons that have taken place since Friday.

BLOCK: It's a little confusing, Sam, because fire department authorities came out earlier today and announced two arrests. I gather neither of those men who they were talking about is the man that you're talking about right now.

QUINONES: Precisely. These are other cases, earlier cases before Friday, is my understanding. The cases that really have the city on edge are the cases that began Friday, really kicked off on Saturday, a lot on Saturday and Sunday. And then, early this morning, it was just – went crazy. There were, in the wee hours of the morning, 12 fires in parts of Hollywood, then over the San Fernando Valley, over the hill into the San Fernando Valley, and then back over into the town of West Hollywood, which is right adjacent to Hollywood. The poor fire guys are running all over the place trying to keep up with this and finally it ended.

BLOCK: And when was the suspect arrested?

QUINONES: This fellow was arrested about 3:00 in the morning on Sunset Boulevard, spotted by a reserve deputy sheriff who just was driving by. I guess he was helping with the investigation. He spotted a minivan that had been mentioned as a possible suspect vehicle in this case, fit the description, he pulls the fellow over and apparently this is the fellow.

In the backseat, I'm told there were, quote, "fire starting material." There have been no arson fires since the detention of this fellow about 3:00 in the morning.

BLOCK: And any injuries connected with these fires?

QUINONES: One person, I believe, suffered some smoke inhalation. But no serious injuries, let's put it that way.

BLOCK: What have you heard from people, Sam, about how they are changing their behavior – if they are - knowing about this risk that's been about these arson fires?

QUINONES: I think the people in Hollywood-West Hollywood area were greatly affected by this. A lot of folks took to being quite vigilant. I spoke to one guy who said he didn't get to sleep last night. HE just was peering out his door because he lives in a densely - a lot of apartments in his neighborhood, a lot of carports. No sooner does he get to sleep, finally, a little bit after 1:00, then all of a sudden he's awakened by screams from the neighbors - there's a big fire, there's a – he runs outside, sure enough, there's a carport on fire. And that's one of the fires that is believed connected to this fellow. So, it really had a lot of people, particularly in the Hollywood-West Hollywood area, greatly on edge.

BLOCK: I read about some people, too, who were – if they had a car parked under their apartment in the carport, were moving it out, parking it on the street.

QUINONES: Exactly, and police were advising people to keep their lights on or any outdoor lights they might have, be very vigilant, lock your doors – all this kind of thing. It was – it kind of gripped the area for several days now.

BLOCK: Sam Quinones, with the Los Angeles Times, thanks very much.

QUINONES: My pleasure, thank you.

BLOCK: And again, news today that police have announced the arrest of one man in connection with the string of what is now more than 50 arson fires.

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