- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Adrian H. Thompson has transferred the city’s lead arson investigator in the midst of the biggest arson investigation in the District’s history.

Battalion Chief Richard Fleming, who has been leading the D.C. investigation, will be reassigned to the 1st Battalion effective Sunday. But Chief Thompson said the shakeup has nothing to do with dissatisfaction over how the arson cases have been handled.

“This is a routine thing for chief officers or people who are trying to become chief officers to rotate through the command structure,” Chief Thompson said. “I believe I’ve got a capable person coming in behind him.”

Chief Thompson said two teams of two arson investigators are assigned to the string of arsons, and the teams will remain intact.

He said Chief Fleming’s primary role in the investigation was to represent him at task force meetings. Chief Fleming will continue to be involved in the investigation as he transitions out of his post, Chief Thompson said.

The latest fire in the series of arsons occurred yesterday morning at about 2:45 a.m., outside a home in the 1700 block of 24th Street NE. No one was hurt in yesterday’s fire, which was linked conclusively to the serial arsonist believed to be responsible for setting 30 other fires in the District and Prince George’s County.

D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services spokesman Alan Etter said a man and a woman were at home at the time of the fire. The woman was asleep and the man was watching a movie on television when he smelled smoke. The man looked out the window, saw the flames and tried to put the fire out himself, before calling firefighters.

The fire did not extend into the home, and the couple escaped safely. Mr. Etter said a dog trained to sniff out arson materials detected an accelerant at the scene.

There have been 18 arsons and one attempted fire set in the District, and 12 arsons in Prince George’s, since March 5.

A joint task force made up of 10 local and federal law enforcement agencies has been coordinating the investigation of the arson fires. The team has conclusively linked 10 fires and one attempted arson through physical evidence collected at the scenes. A June 5 fire that killed Lou Edna Jones, 86, of Northeast, has not been conclusively linked to the arsonist.

According to a behavioral profile created by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and released yesterday by the arson task force, the arsonist may abuse alcohol, project blame onto others and lie a great deal. Profilers suspect he may have a criminal history, he may behave recklessly, and he may have difficulty controlling his anger.

Representatives of the arson task force said they have investigated more than 300 leads and continue to offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonist.

Chief Thompson said he believes that if whoever is setting the fires continues, he eventually will be caught.

“Once they make a mistake, we’ve got them,” he said.


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