Man accused of setting fires pleads not guilty

David Kelley Lawson accused of setting 16 fires

SAN DIEGO -  

A homeless sex offender accused of setting fire to several trash bins and coffee carts in Hillcrest and downtown San Diego over a three-hour period pleaded not guilty Friday to 15 counts of arson.

David Kelley Lawson, 57, was ordered held on $500,000 bail and faces more than 300 years to life in prison if convicted, said Deputy District Attorney Jihan Yacoub.

According to the state Megan's Law website, Lawson has a prior conviction for committing a lewd act on a child.

Yacoub, without being specific, said the defendant has two previous "strike" convictions.

Lawson is accused of setting the fires between 2 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, the prosecutor said.

He had eight disposable lighters on his person and melted and burned materials on the front of his clothing when he was arrested, the prosecutor alleged.

"It is a danger to the community," Yacoub said outside court. "Starting fires is a very serious crime. We do take these cases very seriously."

According to Capt. Ed Filio of the San Diego Metro Arson Strike Team, the arson series started around 2 a.m. Wednesday in Hillcrest. He said another batch of fires started just before 4 a.m. next to City Hall, where firefighters also found garbage and a mobile coffee stand in flames.

Shortly after 4 a.m., a security guard at the Edward J. Schwartz Federal Building saw someone trying to set fire to some cardboard and reported him, Filio said.

A second coffee cart was damaged by fire at nearby Horton Plaza.

Fire officials said damage from all the fires combined was estimated at $55,000, with most of that coming from the mobile coffee stand near City Hall.

Judge David Szumowski scheduled a readiness conference for Sept. 25 and a preliminary hearing for Sept. 27.

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