Some persistent sleuthing on the part of detectives this week led to the arrest of an alleged teenage pyromaniac suspected of setting fire to a Milan Road hotel on Tuesday.
The 16-year-old Perkins boy and his alleged accomplice, a 14-year-old Sandusky boy, were both charged with arson and breaking and entering, Perkins police Chief Ken Klamar said.
The older boy was charged with arson three years ago for setting fire to a vacant Dewitt Avenue home.
This time, a trail of video evidence led to the boy’s undoing.
“The detectives did some really good work on this,” Klamar said. “They’ve been at this thing (all week)”
Tuesday evening was something of a barnburner for local fire crews — they responded to a severe house fire on Shady Lane at about 6:30 p.m., and about 45 minutes later they were dispatched to the vacant America’s Best Value Inn hotel, next to the old RoadHouse at Ohio 2 and Milan Road.
Perkins fire Chief Keith Wohlever was immediately suspicious of the latter blaze, since the place is vacant in the winter.
Perkins detectives Joe Rotuno and Jonah Roesch went next door to the Sonic restaurant, where they reviewed video footage from surveillance cameras on the building. The video shows two individuals walking through the vacant hotel’s unlocked front doors shortly before the fire was reported.
“Because of the distance, there wasn’t much to make out other than (two suspects)” Klamar said.
Still, it gave the detectives a timeframe. They went to a neighboring bank and reviewed exterior surveillance footage, but snow mounds around the bank made it impossible to see the hotel, Klamar said.
Then they struck a bonanza at Walmart.
When the detectives stopped at the big-box store to review surveillance footage — in hopes the two suspects had stopped there — they were greeted by a loss-prevention officer who already had her eyes on the boys earlier that evening.
The Walmart guard suspected the boys stole from the store previously, Klamar said, and she had her surveillance cameras trained on them as they milled about.
“(Walmart) already had pictures of them printed out,” Klamar said. “(The lossprevention office) asked, ‘It’s not by chance these guys, is it?’
“The photos from Walmart were pretty good, as far as their faces and clothing and everything else” Klamar said.
The detectives also inspected the footprints the suspects had left in the snow near the hotel. Armed with that evidence, police went to the Perkins boy’s home Thursday and picked him up for questioning, Klamar said.
The boy’s shoes matched the footprints, police said. In short order he was charged with felony arson and felony breaking and entering, then taken to the county detention home. On Friday, officers picked up the Sandusky boy and charged him with the same, Klamar said.
It’s unknown if the boys will be charged with theft for any alleged misdeeds at Walmart.
Klamar said the boys were dropped off at the mall Thursday evening by a friend’s parent. The two went to Meijer, then to Walmart, then to the vacant hotel, he said.
Firefighters have not revealed how the fire was set. They sent material samples to the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s office for analysis, and they’re still awaiting results. Fire damage to the hotel was minimal, but there was extensive smoke damage throughout.
The March 2011 fire caused extensive damage to a home in the 600 block of Dewitt Ave. “The Perkins boy was previously charged with arson in our department” Klamar said.
No one was injured in Tuesday’s fire.
“It’s fortunate that no one was in there,” Klamar said. “They obviously don’t understand the gravity of the situation”
Last month in Toledo, former Perkins firefighter James Dickman, 31, and fellow Toledo firefighter Stephen Machcinski, 42, were killed while battling a blaze at a Toledo apartment. The owner of the apartment was charged with two counts each of aggravated arson and aggravated murder.