Charges: Angry janitor torched 2 U-District buildings, fled to L.A.

(MGN Online image)

SEATTLE - A man charged with setting fire to two University District buildings last month reportedly told detectives he was mad at his boss and contemplated fleeing to Mexico before turning himself in.

Prosecutors accuse the 24-year-old man of setting fire to the University Heights Center, where he worked as a janitor, early on the morning of July 22, before he headed south and set the Agua Verde Cafe and Paddle Club ablaze.

The sprinkler system at the University Heights Center extinguished the flames. Agua Verde sustained $60,000 in damage.

"The defendant easily could have torched two cherished, historic Seattle institutions to the ground," Senior Deputy Prosecutor William Doyle wrote to the court.

The University Heights Center is a 115-year-old wood-framed building in the 5000 block of University Way Northeast that houses a children's theater, schools, a low-income housing agency and arts and senior organizations, among other tenants.

Seattle firefighters responded to a fire alarm at the building about 3:08 a.m., where they found several brooms set on fire in a basement workshop. Crews also spotted two gasoline containers outside the door.

A Seattle police detective reviewed security footage with the facilities manager and executive director of the building. The witnesses identified the 24-year-old janitor, captured on the video minutes before the fire, carrying a gas can into the workshop, according to the incident report.. The janitor had keys to the building and also to the shed that contained the gas cans. The door to the workshop and the combination lock on the shed were both unlocked.

The detective called the 24-year-old's cell phone number July 26. He reportedly returned the call to say he was on a train back to Seattle from Los Angeles. Detectives met the man at the King Street Station the next evening and arrested him for investigation of arson.

During an interview, the man allegedly admitted to setting the University Heights Center fire and detailed how he poured gasoline on the floor in the basement, lit a broom on fire and threw the broom onto the gasoline puddle.

He allegedly claimed he was angry at his boss and "at life in general," according to Seattle police reports.

Another fire occurred the morning of July 22 at the Agua Verde Cafe and Paddle Club about 4:17 a.m. The man reportedly confessed to setting another fire after leaving University Heights, saying he walked toward Portage Bay and came upon flammable material on a porch. He allegedly claimed he used his lighter and set fire to the material.

Reports say he then claimed to board a bus in Queen Anne to the Greyhound station in Sodo and headed for Los Angeles. He had never been to Los Angeles, nor did he have a place to stay there, but he thought about going to Mexico, Doyle wrote in a court memo.

The man is charged with first-degree attempted arson and second-degree arson. He remains jailed on $450,000 bail.

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