[UPDATED with Arrest:] Irvine Police Turn to Public to Find Men Wanted in Apartment Fire, Burglary and Assault
See the update on page 2 about police making an arrest and prosecutors filing charges.
ORIGINAL POST, JAN. 11, 9:23 A.M.: The Irvine Police Department is reaching out to the public in hopes of finding two men linked to an apartment complex apartment fire they believe was set so units could be burglarized after residents fled.
Photos and security video have been released of man who pepper sprayed the face of a resident who returned to his unit to find the stranger inside after the fire broke out Wednesday night at AXIS 2300 Luxury Apartments, 2300 Dupont Drive (at Von Karman Avenue), Irvine.
A photo has also been released of a second man considered by police to be a "person of interest."
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The structure was already being evacuated as Irvine Police and Orange County Fire Authority personnel arrived around 8:30 p.m. The agencies had received multiple calls of smoke and possibly fire coming from the leasing office area on the first floor. The fire, which was quickly knocked down, was confined to the leasing office, and there was no structural damage or injuries from the fire, according to Irvine Police Lt. Julia Engen.
But before the fire was extinguished, a male resident returned to his apartment to retrieve his keys--and found this man inside, apparently burglarizing his unit:
Photos courtesy of Irvine Police Department
He is further described as a 25- to 35-year-old Hispanic or Middle-Eastern who is 5-foot-9 to 6 feet tall with a heavy build, dark complexion and dark curly hair. He was wearing a black leather jacket, light blue jeans, tan shoes and carrying a black back pack. One witness said he had a mole on one of his cheek, Engen noted.
The second man seen in the area around the time of the fire "may have information" that can help investigators, according to Engen:
He is described as 40 to 50 years old male with a dark complexion and a white goatee. He was wearing a black beanie, black jacket, blue jeans and carrying an orange and black backpack.
Security video from the leasing office shows the arson/burglary suspect attempting to set a fire under a couch, but it burned out on its own before he returned 45 minutes later to set the blaze that caused the evacuation, Engen noted. Here is video:
Because the stranger in the apartment pepper sprayed the resident, the suspect is wanted for assault in addition to arson and burglary. Anyone with information on the identity of either man is encouraged to call the Irvine Police Department Arson Investigator at 714.573.6712 or email Detective B. Miller firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE, JAN. 25, 4:36 P.M.:
Police have not only arrested Jose Jesus Baca Jr. for the attempted arson, burglary and assault in Irvine but of being responsible for a series of fires set primarily in Irvine and Fullerton apartment complexes to divert attention so units could be burglaried.
The tab for his last fire, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA): more than $1 million.
Between Dec. 18, 2012, and this past Sunday, the Santa Ana 36-year-old allegedly lit the fires and ran through residential areas yelling their was a fire to get occupants to flee so he could enter their homes and take personal items, including wallets and jewelry.
On Sunday, Baca allegedly lit a fire in the carport of a Fullerton apartment complex on North Associated Road, where he is accused of burglarizing at least one unit. But the fire spread to multiple units and more than $1 million in damage, according to the OCDA.
An investigation by Irvine and Fullerton police led to a hotel room in the latter city, where Baca was arrested Tuesday. With him was stolen property taken from his victims' homes and more than 10 grams of methamphetamine, prosecutors say.
Baca is charged with four felony counts of first degree residential burglary, three felony counts of arson of another's property, two felony counts of arson of an inhabited property, one felony count each of grand theft, possession for sale of a controlled substance, and receiving stolen property, with a sentencing enhancement for arson burning multiple structures.
A conviction could send him to prison for 18 years.
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