SAN DIEGO - A homeless man was arrested on suspicion of arson Wednesday after he allegedly set 16 fires in commercial trash bins and coffee carts in Hillcrest and downtown San Diego.
The series of non-injury blazes began about 2 a.m., according to the city Fire-Rescue Department. Within minutes, a total of seven refuse containers had been set on fire in the Hillcrest area, said Capt. Ed Filio of the San Diego Metro Arson Strike Team.
The series of arson blazes resumed shortly before 4 a.m. at Civic Center Plaza adjacent to City Hall, where fire crews found another garbage bin and a mobile coffee-and-pastry stand ablaze. The flames destroyed the cart and its contents, causing an estimated $50,000 worth of losses, Filio told reporters during a late-morning briefing.
Ja Java, the cart at Civic Center Plaza, has long been popular with City Hall workers and Civic Theatre patrons. It was severely damaged, if not destroyed.
Ja Java co-owner Adam Bickel told 10News he was heartbroken after having just purchased the business six months ago.
"It's like a child just died," Bickel said as he looked at the damage.
He said he wants justice and plans to start rebuilding right away.
"We're going to have to clean and do everything we can to try and get it back running," said Ja Java co-owner Jenny Garrett. "It's definitely a bump in the road. This is our income. I don't have another job I can go to."
A short time later, a security officer at the downtown Edward J. Schwartz Federal Building spotted transient David Kelly Lawson, 57, trying to set fire to piece of cardboard on a driveway at the government complex at Broadway and Front Street and took him into custody, the captain said.
Lawson was expected to be booked into county jail on suspicion of maliciously setting all 16 fires, including one that damaged a second coffee cart at Horton Plaza shopping center, Filio said, adding that the blazes apparently were sparked with matches or a cigarette lighter.
The suspect was refusing to speak to investigators, so a motive for the alleged arson spree was unknown, according to Filio.
Jail records obtained by 10News show Lawson faces arson charges and failure to register as a transient.
His bail is set for $50,000 and his first court date is Sept. 14.
Police were looking into whether any surveillance cameras captured images of the crimes as they were committed.