Los Angeles Police Arrest Suspect in Car Arsons
The New York Times
By ADAM NAGOURNEY
January 2, 2012
An arson fire in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles was one of dozens throughout the city over the last few days. A suspect was taken into custody around 3 a.m. Monday.
LOS ANGELES —
A four-day storm of arsons that caused more than $3 million in damage to cars and apartment buildings across Los Angeles led to an arrest early Monday morning after a reserve sheriff’s deputy, on patrol in the midst of another chaotic night of serial fires, recognized a man from a video surveillance tape released this week.
For a Second Night, Vehicles Are Set Ablaze in the Los Angeles Area (January 1, 2012)
19 Car Fires Are Set Around Hollywood (December 31, 2011)
The suspect, Harry Burkhart, 24, was spotted by a patrolling reserve sheriff’s deputy, who recognized him from surveillance footage of a parking lot that was released on Sunday.
Capt. Jaime Moore spoke about the arrest on Monday outside a fire station in Los Angeles.
The man, Harry Burkhart, 24, was taken into custody without incident around 3 a.m. on Sunset Boulevard on the outskirts of Hollywood, close to a drug store and a gas station. He was charged with arson around 6 a.m. and was being held without bail.
“A serial arsonist has, I believe, been caught,” Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles County, standing in front of a bank of television cameras, said at a news conference attended by a parade of elected officials.
Sheriff Baca called the suspect “perhaps the most dangerous arsonist in the county of Los Angeles that I can recall.”
Chief Charlie Beck of Los Angeles Police Department said Mr. Burkhart was a German national; few additional details about the case would be provided for now, he added.
Chief Beck said he hoped that the suspect was acting alone, but he refused to rule out the possibility of other people being involved. “That is our huge concern at this exact moment,” Chief Beck said. “We have every hope that he did. But we do not know that yet.”
Search warrants were being executed at Mr. Burkhart’s house, Chief Beck said, and information from those searches would help officials determine how many people were involved in setting the fires.
Still other officials, including Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, seemed more optimistic that this arrest would resolve the case. And they said that there had been no more fires after Mr. Burkhart, who was driving a van that contained some incendiary material, was taken into custody.
The arrest brought at least a temporary reprieve in an episode that dominated the New Year’s weekend here. The attacks began early Friday morning and continued the next three nights. In the end, 52 cars were set on fire. Since many of the cars were in carports or garages, a number of apartment buildings sustained serious damage as well.
The random attacks stirred anxiety in neighborhoods across the city. But there were no significant injuries in connection with the fires, the authorities said.
Mr. Burkhart’s arrest came after another chaotic night, as cars began exploding into flames after dusk. The streets were again flooded with police officers, detectives and fire investigators.
Chief Beck said the case would not have been solved without the release on Sunday of a videotape showing the suspect leaving a parking lot.
Shervin Lalezary, a reserve sheriff’s deputy who works for $1 a year, spotted the suspect and stopped him at Sunset Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. He was introduced to considerable applause at the news conference on Monday evening as he described the stop. “As soon as I put on my lights and initiated a traffic stop of the suspect vehicle, I had an L.A.P.D. vehicle behind me ready to go,” he said.
For the next two hours, the area was roped off and police helicopters rumbled overhead.
Although the police declined to rule out the possibility of accomplices, they said two other men arrested last week and charged with arson in connection with fires set in the same area were not related to Mr. Burkhart or these latest attacks.
Chief Beck said officials would release only limited information while the investigation continues.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” he said. “Details about the suspect will not be released tonight. Many questions will go unanswered. That is not because the investigation is dormant.”
Ian Lovett contributed reporting.