Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

September 12, 2013

Local police seek help in identifying arson suspect

TRAVERSE CITY — A suspect captured on video lighting a fire in downtown Traverse City may be connected to a string of suspicious fires inside and outside city limits.

Enhanced security camera footage from July 6 shows a male suspect lighting a fire in a wooded area between the J&S Hamburg restaurant and the Record-Eagle building on West Front Street.

Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner said the fire is similar to four subsequent arsons in and around Traverse City, and authorities seek the public’s help identifying the suspect.

“We don’t know if these are connected,” Heffner said. “However, they seem to be similar in how they’re lit.”

The July 6 fire occurred on the last day of the National Cherry Festival when Front Street was closed for pedestrian traffic. Heffner said the suspect lit a brush pile near a small building, walked away, placed paper on a phone box and threw a lighter in a dumpster.

Two other Traverse City fires were intentionally set in brush piles next to buildings — one on Aug. 12 next to the banquet center at the Traverse City Golf and Country Club and another on Sept. 6 in the 600 block of Grant Street. The most recent fire burned a garden shed.

Heffner said two similar fires occurred outside city limits and were investigated by the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Department. Both involved heavy machinery and came within days of each other; a cement truck was set on fire Aug. 8 at Concrete Service Inc. on West Front Street and on Aug. 11 a backhoe was burned at a construction site near Copper Ridge.

Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department Chief Pat Parker said he didn’t know much about the potential connection between the fires, but welcomed the help in the investigation.

“We just want people to know if you start a fire, you’re going to get caught,” he said.

The suspect is described as between 20 and 30 years old, 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 8 inches tall.

“We want to talk to him about this (July 6) arson and the subsequent arsons,” Heffner said.

Members of the public with information are asked to contact the Traverse City Police Department Detective Bureau at 231-995-5152 or the anonymous tip line at 231-947-TIPS (8477).

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