Are the Los Angeles car fires an act of 'domestic terrorism? UPDATE City leaders said they hoped a fiery four-day nightmare of more than 50 car and home blazes was at an end following the arrest Monday of a 24-year-old man who was charged with arson.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said police had filed one count of arson of an uninhabited dwelling against Harry Burkhart of Hollywood after taking him into custody following an early morning traffic stop.
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.”
Police said Burkhart told arresting officers he's from Frankfurt, Germany, but they didn't know how long he has been in the USA, the Associated Press reported. Police declined to reveal any motive for the fires.
The arrest was made after a sheriff's deputy stopped a van because it matched a description from witnesses in the rash of 52 fires, most set in cars, over the New Year's weekend. Some of the fires spread to apartment buildings and other structures, causing what Fire Chief Brian Cummings said was approximately $3 million in damage.
One damaged building was a former home of the late Doors singer Jim Morrison in Laurel Canyon.01/03/12 Someone's torched more than 35 cars over the last four nights in Los Angeles area and everyone wants to know why. Are these bored kids? A sophisticated criminal? Or, as one mayor offered, is this an act of domestic terrorism?
The acts of arson started on Thursday night, spread into Friday night, and continued on New Year's Eve with approximately 40 cars charred. Some of these vehicles were parked in apartment complexes, causing significant damage.
The fires are mostly grouped along the northern side of Los Angeles in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and further north into the San Fernando Valley. There's also one car fire on the south side of Los Angeles in Lennox, which may or may not be related.
No one has claimed responsibility for the this string of fires, but police are looking for a man who may be driving a white-on-tan mid-90s Lexus ES300. They're also offering a reward of $60K for information leading to his/their arrest.
In a similar case last year, the individual responsible for setting fire to over 100 cars in Berlin turned out to be a man upset at his lack of money and prospects, taking out his displeasure with society on expensive cars. As of now the cars set on fire seem to lack any obvious pattern in the SoCal fires, with the vehicles ranging from a Toyota Corolla to a BMW.
So far no one has been hurt in the string of fires, but that hasn't stopped West Hollywood Mayor John J. Duran from telling CNN that he viewed the acts as "domestic terrorism."
"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 the Mayor.
Given the place cars play in Southern California society that's not entirely an overstatement. If you're intent on causing fear without actually harming anyone, you'd have a hard time picking a better target than people's automobiles.
Initial estimates put the property damage at around $350,000, but this number could rise as the damage is fully assessed. Jalopnik.com