Police suspect arson in car fires

Two vehicles burned in downtown Juneau during the weekend

Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Police and fire authorities Monday were trying to find out who set two vehicle fires in separate downtown parking lots over the weekend.

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Police were called at 10:35 a.m. Sunday to the Subport parking lot off Egan Drive, where a 2000 GMC truck had been set ablaze. Nearly five hours later, at 3:46 p.m., police responded to a fire in a 1995 Jeep Cherokee in the JRC/Alaska Club parking lot downtown.

"We're looking at them like they're possibly connected," Sgt. Steve Christensen said.

Investigators found that both vehicles were rifled before being set afire. Both were a total loss. The fires were contained and did not spread, Christensen said.

"Both of them were started in the interior of the vehicles, but being that the windows were closed, I think it kind of burned itself out," he said.

Both vehicles had heavy fire and smoke damage. Monetary damage to the truck was estimated at $12,000. There was no estimate for the Jeep.

Investigators found no signs of fire-starting material, Christensen said.

"From my understanding, it appears an accelerant wasn't used," he said.

Jeep owner Brian Rotola, a Juneau Empire employee, said police told him they suspected young amateurs rather than experienced arsonists.

"If so, I think it's a shame that we have kids going there, that they don't have anything better to do," he said.

"When I saw it I was just in shock," he said. "I couldn't believe that someone would actually ruin a perfectly good car just out of fun."

Although he will be stuck with the cost of towing the vehicle, the experience was not a total loss, Rotola said.

"The bright side of the whole thing is I guess I have an excuse to my wife to go buy a new car," he said.

The fire marshal is assisting with the investigation of first-degree arson, a Class A felony punishable by a maximum 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

"We don't have any leads at this point," Christensen said. "This is a rare thing, not an everyday occurrence."

Police asked for tips from the public.

"If anybody has any information please contact the Juneau Police Department or contact crime line," Christensen said. The crime line number is 586-4243 and JPD is 586-0600.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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