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L.A. arson probe: Rookie reserve deputy spotted 'person of interest'

January 2, 2012 | 10:21 am

The "person of interest" detained for questioning in a string of Los Angeles arsons was spotted and detained by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reserve officer who was new to the job, officials said.

Map shows locations of fires possibly linked to recent arson spree. Credit: Los Angeles TimesThe reserve deputy saw the man's minivan driving in the West Hollywood area near Sunset Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue on early Monday morning, said LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith, and the description of the vehicle matched one put out by detectives working the arson fires.

"It was very good piece of police work," Smith said. "He spotted the vehicle and allowed us to take him into custody."

MAP: Arson fires

The man, whose name was not released, has been termed a "person of interest" by authorities. He has not been arrested or charged in connection with the fires.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity said he appears to have been battling the U.S. government over the immigration status of a relative, but they added that they don't know if this played any role in the case. The Los Angeles Police Department is in communication with federal immigration officials concerning the dispute, law enforcement sources said.

LAPD detectives found materials inside the man's minivan that could have been used to set fires, the sources said.

PHOTOS: Arson fires

Little is known about the man. Sources said the minivan had Canadian license plates but that detectives say the man is from Germany.

The man was detained near a drugstore at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Sunset Boulevard early Monday morning, according to a witness to the incident.

Several sources said the man is believed to be the same person seen in a surveillance video released by police Sunday. However, in a statement, a Los Angeles fire official stressed that "it is too early to speculate if this person is responsible for the spree of arson fires."

FULL COVERAGE: Arson fires

A police source also stressed that the investigation is still in its early stages and that detectives are still trying to determine whether the man can be considered a suspect in the arsons. All the sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is ongoing.

The detention followed a morning of arson cases across the Hollywood area Monday. Eleven fires were reported in two hours, beginning at 1:30 a.m., most burning cars and carports in apartment complexes, police and fire officials said.

A total of 55 "fires of concern" have broken out in the Los Angeles area since Friday, possibly the work of one arsonist, a fire official said early Monday.


FULL COVERAGE: Arson fires

Suspect arrested in string of fires

Police examine immigration link to case

-- Andrew Blankstein, Ari Bloomekatz and Richard Winton

Photo: A police cruiser diverts traffic along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood after law enforcement officials detained a man driving a van at the intersection of Fairfax Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Map: Shows locations of fires possibly linked to recent arson spree. Credit: Los Angeles Times