Tip Led Reserve Deputy to Stop Arson Suspect

A reserve sheriff's deputy's traffic stop led to the arrest of a suspect in the Hollywood area arson attacks

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Tuesday, Jan 3, 2012  |  Updated 11:10 PM PDT
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Shervin Lalezary, the reserve deputy, responsible for arresting Harry Burkhart, the suspect in the LA arson spree, tells Beverly White how the traffic stop and arrest went down.

Beverly White

Shervin Lalezary, the reserve deputy, responsible for arresting Harry Burkhart, the suspect in the LA arson spree, tells Beverly White how the traffic stop and arrest went down.

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Firefighters were still racing to put out several fires early Monday just hours before a Los Angeles County Reserve Sheriff's Deputy pulled over a minivan sought by arson investigators near Sunset Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

Reserve Deputy Shervin Lalezary, who works as an attorney in Beverly Hills, was backed up by LAPD officers when they took the van's driver -- a 24-year-old German man suspected in the series of fires that began last week -- into custody at about 3 a.m.

"We received so many suspicious person calls and you just got the sense everyone in the city was on edge because of what was happening," said Lalezary. "Having gone to the different fire calls the nights before and seeing the residents flee from their homes and run for their lives, the second I realized this maybe the individual, I just felt a big sense of relief."

"I'm ecstatic that law enforcement gets to shine a little bit."

Lalezary, 30, declined to discuss details of the traffic stop, citing the ongoing investigation. Lalezary's family, including his brother who also is a reserve deputy, attended a news conference Monday night.

"He's an outstanding brother and an outstanding deputy," his brother said. "It's good to be by his side."

"We could not be more proud it was one of our guys who caught this guy who has been creating so much havoc for the last several days in West Hollywood," said West Hollywood Mayor Pro-tem Jeff Prang.

The arrest of Harry Burkhart early Monday came after four days of arson attacks -- mostly vehicles set on fire in carports -- in West Hollywood, Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley and other locations.

The release of surveillance video late Sunday that showed a man matching the description of a "person of interest" generated a tip that led to Lalezary's traffic stop, according to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. The tip came from an "un-named agency," Beck said.

The minivan that Burkhart was driving matched a description released by the  task force investigating the fires, which began early Thursday and numbered more than 50 by Monday morning. Lalezary recognized the driver as the ponytailed man seen on security video that was released by the LAPD

"As soon as I put on my lights an initiated a traffic stop of the suspect vehicle, I had an LAPD vehicle behind me ready to go," said Lalezary, who was born in Tehran, Iran and gets paid about $1 per year for part-time reserve deputy work.

He moved with his family to the United States about 25 years ago and became a reserve deputy in 2007. He was on his third solo patrol shift when he encountered Burkhart.

Part-time reserve deputies are trained and sworn law enforcement personnel assigned to patrol stations to perform general law enforcement duties. Lalezary is assisgned to the West Hollywood. They have the same powers of arrest as full-time deputies.

"The deputies at the West Hollywood Sheriff's Station are extremely supportive," said Lalezary, who repeatedly thanked full-time deputies and officers during Monday's news conference. 

Authorities have not ruled out the possibility that more people were involved in the fires, and authorities have declined to cite a motive. The tip that led to the arrest came after federal authorities viewed surveillance video of a man matching the suspect's description.

Burkhart is scheduled to make his first court appearance Wednesday.

The fires caused an estimated $3 million in damage.

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View Hollywood Area Arson Fires Map in a larger map

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