Los Angeles

Arsonist Sentenced to Prison for One of LA's Largest Structure Fires

The Da Vinci apartment complex was under construction in downtown Los Angeles at the time of the fire

A 58-year-old man pleaded no contest to arson of a downtown Los Angeles apartment complex and was immediately sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Dawud Abdulwali also was ordered to pay restitution, which is expected to approach $100 million, in what authorities said was one of LA County's largest structure fires. 

The fire "could have burned down half of Los Angeles if it had moved to other buildings," the judge said in handing down a 15-year term. "It was very dangerous."

The Da Vinci apartment complex was under construction in downtown Los Angeles at the time the 2014 blaze, fueled by gasoline spread on its fourth floor, was set. The fire spread quickly over the seven-floor wood frame structure and sent thick, black smoke over the nearby 110 Freeway, which was shut down for the morning drive.

Freeway signs melted and nearby buildings also were damaged. The heat was so intense, it shattered about 160 windows in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power headquarters building.

Abdulwali was arrested in May 2015. He entered a plea of no contest to using an accelerant and causing damages in excess of $3.2 million.

"Thanks to the hard work of dozens of investigators and the dedicated staff of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, a man who set one of the most expensive and destructive building fires in the City’s history will serve a lengthy prison sentence," said Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas.

At a preliminary hearing, witnesses testified he set the fire in response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri and other demonstrations over police conduct. Edwyn Gomez, who was recorded telling police that he heard Abdulwali saying he wanted to "burn some (expletive) down" after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, over the shooting death of a black man -- Michael Brown -- by a white police officer.

"Did you call the police?" Deputy Public Defender Lowynn Young asked on cross-examination.

"No, because I knew he wasn't serious," Abdulwali's former roommate said.

"You didn't believe him?" the defense attorney asked.

"No," Gomez responded.

Gomez said he had never seen his former roommate light anything on fire.

Freelance cameraman Howard Raishbrook testified that he stopped to record the fire after seeing a "column of smoke" as he drove onto the northbound 110 Freeway in the downtown Los Angeles area. Aerial video from that morning showed car backed up for miles along the usually bustling route through downtown Los Angeles.

He testified that he saw portions of the building collapsing as a result of the fire, which was moving "incredibly fast." He said his arm turned bright red because of the radiant heat, and he had to move his car twice.

Eric Harden, special agent in charge of the ATF Los Angeles Field Division, issued a statement following the sentencing.

"As the federal agency with jurisdiction for investigating fires and crimes of arson, ATF partnered with (the) L.A. Fire Department, sharing its technical and scientific expertise along with its cutting-edge resources to solve this unnecessary and violent crime," Harden said.

"While the motives in arson acts may vary from greed to plain evil, ATF's determination and will to place these criminals behind bars is solid and pointed," he said. "We will continue to seek out, investigate and remove arsonists from society so our communities can be safe."

No injuries were reported.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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