- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

FREDERICK, Md. — A roaring fire engulfed a shopping center yesterday afternoon after an armed robbery attempt at a liquor store.

The would-be robber apparently set the fire while barricaded inside Jim’s Liquor Store, Frederick police said. It is thought that he died in the inferno, though his body was not immediately recovered.

Police identified the gunman as James Douglas, 29, of Frederick, and said the man responded to that name during negotiations, Lt. Tom Chase said.

The man entered in the Antietam Village Shopping Center on Opossumtown Pike about 12:30 p.m. carrying a handgun and he ordered the clerk in the store to leave, Lt. Chase said. The clerk, who recognized the gunman, ran to a neighboring store and called police.

When Frederick officers arrived, Mr. Douglas fired at them from the liquor store, Lt. Chase said.

Police began surrender negotiations with Mr. Douglas, but within 30 minutes a fire broke out that engulfed the store and then the rest of the shopping center, Lt. Chase said. The fire reduced the 10-store multilevel shopping center to a smoldering hulk, caving in roofs and leaving nothing but smoking wreckage inside stores.

“I’ve responded to a lot of fires, but that thing went really fast,” Lt. Chase said. He suspected that the fire was fueled by all of the alcohol in the store.

The remains of the shopping center continued to smolder more than five hours after the fire started.

Lt. Chase said the area has seen a “serious number of armed robberies” recently, and detectives were concentrating on bringing the number of armed robberies down.

“It’s just a bad area,” said Aquavia Leaks, who lives near Frederick and witnessed the fire. Miss Leaks said she has heard of two or three other holdups in the area surrounding the shopping center that burned down.

Other area residents expressed concern, but few were surprised by yesterday’s attempted robbery.

“I’ve been here for about a year, my wife’s been here for about 10 years, and we can’t wait to get out of here,” said Mike Johnson, 42.

“I hear gunshots going on over here all the time,” he said. “There is a lot of crime, robberies and drugs in this area.”

Other residents who witnessed the afternoon blaze also seemed unsurprised by the attempted robbery. Most of the people who congregated near the smoldering storefronts yesterday afternoon seemed primarily concerned about the Dunkin’ Donuts shop that had been destroyed.

“That’s the morning stop to get your coffee,” Miss Leaks said.

Police are investigating the robbery and fire to determine whether Mr. Douglas “was a person in distress,” if he was intoxicated or if he intentionally set the liquor store ablaze, Lt. Chase said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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