Community reporter tracks down man wanted for questioning after suspicious Hemet fire

HEMET — A local community reporter and photo journalist known for responding to San Jacinto valley law enforcement and fire incidents was instrumental in tracking down and locating a man wanted for questioning after a suspicious fire behind a Hemet business yesterday morning, Wednesday, Jan. 9. Although the man was detained and then arrested, it was not immediately known if officials determined he was responsible for the commercial fire.

The suspected arson, which happened behind dd’s DISCOUNTS, southwest of Florida and Lyon avenues, damaged an industrial trash compactor, and was the latest in a long string of suspected arson fires that have been plaguing Hemet for months.

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Most of the suspicious and confirmed arson fires have involved trees and dumpsters. The fires – some of which occurred several times a day, with four set one night alone – have caused a regular strain on fire resources, as firefighters have had to be routed away from other calls to handle the intentionally set blazes.

City of Hemet Fire personnel were dispatched to dd’s DISCOUNTS around 9:15 a.m., after the store’s manager called 911 to report seeing flames and smoke coming from the motor compartment of an industrial-sized trash compactor behind the store.

Firefighters who found a fire-damaged trash compactor behind a Hemet business determined the fire had been purposely set. Gary Rainwater photo

During their subsequent fire investigation, fire officials determined the fire had been deliberately set. Fire officials later notified Hemet PD that a possible suspect was spotted leaving the area on a newer, bright red mountain bike, with white-wall, “beach cruiser-style” tires. The alleged suspect was described as a white male adult, with scruffy face and beard, and was believed to be a transient living in the area.

Despite searching the area and stopping several people riding red bicycles, officials were initially unable to locate the man seen leaving the area on his bike.

Hemet resident and regular RCNS photo and video contributor, Gary Rainwater, who had responded to the fire after hearing it reported over his scanner, photographed and documented damage caused by the suspected arson fire. After hearing descriptions of the man seen leaving the area, Rainwater began searching the area, and eventually located him few hours later around 11:30 a.m., behind a nearby Dollar General.

Rainwater later told RCNS that the man, who officials have not yet publicly identified, had covered his distinctively colored bike with blankets and clothes, possibly in an attempt to avoid being spotted.

Although officers arrested a man after the fire, it was not immediately known if the man was charged with setting the earlier suspected arson fire. Gary Rainwater photo

Rainwater contacted the City’s Emergency Communication’s Center and reported possibly finding the man officials were searching for. Within moments, police and fire personnel converged on the area and quickly detained the subject.

During a subsequent search, the man was found to be in possession of several lighters, a propane canister, and other potential fire-starting items. A Hemet Fire Battalion Chief also positively identified the subject as the man seen leaving the area right after the fire.

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Officers eventually handcuffed the man and transported him to Hemet PD for further investigation. His bicycle, trailer, and other personal items, were later picked up and transported to the station to be booked as private property, pending the outcome of Hemet PD’s investigation.

Hemet PD has not yet responded to a request for information about their investigation or whether the man seen being arrested was connected to the earlier fire or charged with any crime.

This is a developing story that will be updated as new information is available.

Click any image to open full-size gallery.

Gary Rainwater video
Gary Rainwater video

Contact the writer: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

Trevor Montgomery, 47, moved last year to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for several other news organizations; including Riverside County based newspapers, Valley News, The Valley Chronicle, and Anza Valley Outlook; as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County and Mountain Echo in Shasta County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 28 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 15 – but soon to be 16 – grandchildren.

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