The Los Angeles Police Department said Monday that detectives were still seeking a motive for why a 28-year-old man allegedly set fire to Studio City music studio, killing two people inside.
Twenty-eight-year-old Eferem Zimbalist Demery of Los Angeles was arrested on suspicion of murder for allegedly starting a Saturday morning fire at Top Notch Recordings. The blaze killed two men and critically injured two other victims - a 20-year-old male and a 15-year-old girl - in addition to causing minor injuries to a fifth person, said LAPD Homicide-Robbery Division Capt. William Hayes.
DeVaughn Cemar Carter, 28, of Los Angeles, and Michael Pollard, 30, were pronounced dead at the scene. Demery knew both victims and was friends with at least one of them, Hayes said. Detectives believe a dispute between Demery and the men is what led Demery to set the fire, but they are still trying to determine the nature of the dispute, Hayes said.
At least 15 people were inside when the fire broke out, he said. Carter and Pollard were in the same room when the blaze erupted, while the two critically injured victims were in other areas of the studio, Hayes said.
Firefighters were dispatched at 6:54 a.m. Saturday to 3779 N. Cahuenga Blvd. and had the greater alarm fire out within 28 minutes of their arrival, LAFD spokeswoman Amy Bastman said.
Paramedics rushed one gravely injured victim to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the other to Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, she added. The third injured victim was evaluated, but not taken to a hospital.
Using forensic evidence, surveillance video and witness interviews, detectives determined the cause of the fire to be arson, LAPD Deputy Chief Justin Eisenberg said. "Our investigators have determined this fire was intentionally started using an accelerant," he said.
Police believe Demery went to a Chevron gas station across from the music studio, where he purchased gasoline to speed up the fire, Hayes said. After purchasing the gas, Demery entered the studio, poured it in a hallway near the room where the two deceased victims were staying, and ran out of the building through a rear exit, Hayes said.
According to Hayes, the studio is open to the public 24 hours a day. Shad Rabbani, the leasing agent for the building, told the Los Angeles Times that it houses independent producers and studios
"They have a lot of clients and it's 24/7, so I have no idea who is coming and who is going out," Rabbani said.
Songwriter and artist L.A. Pryce said he had worked all night in one of the studios, fallen asleep and was awakened by a friend, the newspaper reported.
"My boy was like, 'Yo wake up. Smell That?' So I opened the door. It's just blacked out smoke," Pryce told the paper. "And then I see flames. I broke for the door and got out. I lost everything, hard drive, computer, everything's gone."
Demery was arrested by a California Highway Patrol officer after committing a traffic infraction, Eisenberg said. He has a prior criminal record for burglary and selling counterfeit goods, Eisenberg added.
Demery is being held without bail at the Van Nuys Criminal Court. His arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.
A further investigation by firefighters will determine if the studio was in violation of any building codes, Hayes said.
The 20-year-old man and 15-year-ol girl remain hospitalized in critical condition, Eisenberg said.