A 57-year-old man was ordered Wednesday to stand trial for allegedly setting fire to an apartment complex that was under construction in downtown Los Angeles in December, starting a conflagration that melted freeway signs and damaged nearby buildings.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar said she found "overwhelming circumstantial evidence" to require Dawud Abdulwali to stand trial on one felony count each of aggravated arson and arson of a structure, along with an allegation that the Dec. 8, 2014, blaze was started with an accelerant.
The charges against Abdulwali stem from a fire that engulfed the Da Vinci complex near Temple Street and Fremont Avenue, near the Harbor (110) and Hollywood (101) freeways. Gasoline was allegedly used on the fourth floor of the seven-story complex, helping to rapidly spread the blaze.
The Los Angeles man was arrested in May 2015 by the Los Angeles Police Department's Anti-Terrorism Division following an investigation that included agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
On the first day of a preliminary hearing Tuesday, prosecutors called Abdulwali's former roommate, Edwyn Gomez, who was recorded telling police that he heard Abdulwali discussing wanting 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.
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"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 film the blaze after seeing a "column of smoke" as he drove onto the northbound 110 Freeway in the downtown Los Angeles area.
He testified that he saw portions of the building collapsing as a result of the fire, which was moving "incredibly fast," that his arm turned bright red because of the radiant heat and that he had to move his car twice.
ATF Special Agent Thomas Rooney -- who was among a national response team called in by the ATF to investigate the fire -- testified that a K9 brought in during the investigation alerted to the presence of an ignitable liquid on the second residential level in the building.
An ATF chemist subsequently determined that a sample collected from the area contained gasoline and a heavy petroleum distillate, he testified. The fire also damaged two nearby office towers owned by the city.
Authorities have estimated damage at $100 million. No one was injured in the blaze. Investigators announced 10 days after the fire that it was the result of arson, saying they had "recovered sufficient evidence to eliminate all known potential accidental causes and determine the fire was intentionally set."
Abdulwali has remained jailed in lieu of $1 million bail since he was taken into custody May 26, 2015. He is due back at the downtown Los Angeles courthouse for arraignment May 25. Abdulwali faces 10 years to life in prison if convicted as charged, prosecutors said.