Arrest made in arson attacks targeting trees

January 8, 2012 12:46:38 PM PST
A Merced man allegedly set palm trees on fire next to a hotel and in a park in Santa Cruz on Friday, police said Sunday.

The first palm tree was set on fire shortly before 11 a.m. Friday next to a hotel on the 500 block of Ocean Street, police said. Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire before it spread to the hotel.

A short time later, around 12:30 p.m., a man was seen lighting a palm tree and wooden post on fire at San Lorenzo Park at 137 Dakota Ave. Firefighters were again able to extinguish the fire before it spread or caused injury, although the post, located near the children's play area, sustained a scorch mark.

Police contacted a suspect who was allegedly seen lighting the tree and wooden post in the park, later identified as Victor Vargas-Chavez.

Vargas-Chavez, a 39-year-old Merced resident, was found to have a lighter in his possession believed to have been used in the arsons, and was also identified by a witness as the man who lit the Ocean Street fire.

Vargas-Chavez was arrested on suspicion of arson and booked into the Santa Cruz County Jail.

Anyone with additional information on this case is asked to contact Santa Cruz police at (831) 420-5820 or call the anonymous tip line at (831) 420-5820.