Vigilant residents at a Fullerton apartment complex captured the license plate of an accused serial arsonist whose alleged modus operandi is to set fires in apartment buildings, warn residents of the blaze and use the fire as a distraction to then burglarize the evacuated units.
Witness information helped lead to the Tuesday arrest of Jose Jesus Baca, Jr., 37, at a Brea motel.
"They chased him, got a great description," said Cpt. Lorraine Jones with the Fullerton Police Department. "A license plate number ultimately led to his arrest."
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Baca was charged on Thursday with a dozen felony counts – including four of first-degree residential burglary, five of arson and one of grand theft, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office.
Investigators believe Baca is responsible for a massive four-alarm fire that started in the carport of the Camden Apartments in Fullerton.
The Jan. 20 blaze broke out at about 8:30 p.m., and displaced families from more than 10 apartment units, Sgt. Jeff Stuart with Fullerton police said in a news release.
Neighbors attempted to detain a man who was being chased out of an apartment by a woman who lived there, Stuart said. Witnesses were able to get a "very detailed" description of the man and the license plate of his motorcycle.
On Jan. 9, surveillance cameras caught a man investigators believe is Baca setting fire in the lobby of an Irvine apartment complex. A third blaze in Costa Mesa has also been linked to Baca, officials said.
If convicted, Baca faces a maximum sentence of 18 years in state prison. He is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
Several Orange County law enforcement agencies are investigating these fires and other similar incidents to see if they are connected.
Anyone with information is asked to call Det. Brent Rebert at (714) 738-6785, or (714) 738-6800.