An unidentified man described as a “person of interest” has been taken in for questioning by Los Angeles authorities after another dozen car fires were started on New Year’s Day.
While there’s some debate over the precise extent of the auto arson epidemic it appears at least 50 car fires have been started since last Friday. Though there have been no deaths or serious injuries – though a firefighter was treated for minor injuries – Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa estimated the arson spree has so far generated over $2 million in damages.
Most of the latest fires were started in L.A., though several also occurred in West Hollywood. But authorities apparently landed the break they needed when a suspect was captured by a surveillance camera emerging from an underground parking lot where one of the latest fires took place.
Police quickly distributed DVDs showing the man, describe as somewhere between 20 and 30 years old, with a ponytail and receding hairline.
“It’s still too early to say whether or not this person has any direct correlation with the number of fires that we’ve been responding to this evening,” L.A. Fire Department spokesman Capt. Jaime Moore said.
While the fires were set in parked cars there has been concern that the situation might get worse if the arsonist wasn’t apprehended quickly. On several occasions, the blazes have spread to carports and apartment units adjacent to the vehicles set on fire.
Among the buildings damaged was a home once occupied by Jim Morrison, the late lead singer from the ‘60s rock group, The Doors.
A police spokesman said that “dozen of witnesses” have been interviewed, with “countless pieces of evidence” now being analyzed. But until now there was no break in the case and officials acknowledged it was unclear if there was a single arsonist or several. It is not unusual for such crimes to incite “copycat” incidents.
But in a news conference, Mayor Villaraigosa said there was “some reason to believe” the arson wave is the work of a single individual. The man now being questioned was arrested near Sunset Boulevard and Fairfax Ave., on L.A.’s West Side, not far from where the spree has been centered.
The rash of automotive arsons has been tackled by a joint city/county task force – which was joined by 25 members of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“When you have millions of people living with millions of cars in these very dense neighborhoods, this is becoming a new form of domestic terrorism that really has got our community in a very bad spot,” said West Hollywood Mayor John J. Duran.