Berkeley police arrest suspected arsonist

July 23, 2010 7:27:02 PM PDT
Berkeley police have arrested a man they believe could be responsible for a string of arsons set in the South Campus area of the city during the past week, a police spokeswoman said today.

On Tuesday, police arrested 25-year-old Travis Eugene Churchill, of Berkeley, in People's Park for allegedly setting a fire in a recycling bin earlier that day, police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss said.

A surveillance video shows the suspect setting fire to a recycling bin in front of Sam's Market at 2312 Telegraph Ave., Kusmiss said. A passerby reported the fire at about 3:50 a.m.

Tuesday's fire was one of nine suspicious fires that have been set in the South Campus area since July 16.

Detectives had photographed Churchill earlier in the investigation as part of a special operation related to the arsons, Kusmiss said.

The suspect in the video allegedly had the same clothes Churchill was wearing in the photographs, and he was "easily recognizable" in the video, she said.

The Alameda County District Attorney's Office charged Churchill with one felony count of arson on Thursday. He was arraigned this morning and pleaded not guilty, Kusmiss said.

The investigation into the remaining suspicious fires continues, but detectives said there appears to be a definite link between the Sam's Market arson case and the others.

Churchill has only been charged with the one count of arson, but Kusmiss said the other fires "share the same m.o.," or modus operandi. She added that there have been no similarly suspicious fires in the city since his arrest.


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