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Public Safety

Homeless Man Arrested For Setting 16 Fires Overnight

The Ja Java coffee cart after it was burned by a suspected arsonist on September 12, 2012.
Katie Orr
The Ja Java coffee cart after it was burned by a suspected arsonist on September 12, 2012.

A homeless man was arrested on suspicion of arson today 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.

A short time later, a security officer at the downtown Edward J. Schwartz Federal Building spotted transient Kelly David 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.

Police were looking into whether any surveillance cameras captured images of the crimes as they were committed.