Ben Hargrove said his office building has been burglarized twice before, and it recently was the victim of arson.
A car was set fire near a loading dock on the back side of HSS Audio Visual, one of multiple tenants in an industrial office complex near the intersection of West T.C. Jester Boulevard and West 34th Street, in the early hours of Oct. 7. It was one of several apparent acts of arson in the vicinity that morning, according to the Houston Fire Department, with a total of six other blazes having been set along 34th, on nearby Lou Ellen Lane and three other locations to the north.
The man suspected of starting all those fires, 28-year-old Joshua A. Rauch, was arrested last Saturday afternoon and charged with second-degree arson.
“I like it when these people are caught,” said Hargrove, a manager at HSS Audio Visual, which was not otherwise damaged.
Residents of the Acres Homes, Oak Forest and Heights areas, along with others around Houston, likely could rest easier earlier this week. There had been a series of overnight fires in the week leading up to the arrest, with at least one other vehicle having been burned in the Heights early Oct. 8.
Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena said his arson division is investigating other recent fires in the Greater Heights area and that Rauch could face additional or elevated charges if he is suspected of being involved in any beyond the seven that led to his arrest.
Community members took to social media to discuss several reported fires in the area between Oct. 4 and Oct. 10, but no new incidents came to light in the days following Rauch’s arrest. He is accused of setting fires to vehicles, sheds and trash, according to Pena, who said no injuries were caused by the fires.
“There was no loss of life, no injuries, and that’s fortunate. But we know from experience and history that these things can escalate,” Pena said. “Because of the incredible work that the arson bureau has done, we think we got a very dangerous individual off the street. The investigation continues.”
Alison Stein, the chief arson investigator for HFD, said Rauch and his silver Ford Focus were identified through surveillance videos from fires at 2009 W. 34th St. and at the University of Houston-Downtown. According to Harris County court documents, investigators obtained a cell phone warrant Oct. 9 that was used to track Rauch and his movements.
Court documents also show that Rauch was charged with felony possession of methamphetamine in November 2019 and agreed to participate in a pretrial intervention program. Rauch was terminated from that program on Monday, according to court documents.
HFD officials said a motive for the alleged acts of arson is unclear.
According to a Monday news release from HFD, Rauch is accused of setting fires at 2009 W. 34th St., 2012 W. 34th St., 2114 Lou Ellen Ln., 3582 W. T.C. Jester Blvd., 5643 N. Shepherd Dr., 5355 Bolivia Blvd., and 6501 Bingle Rd. – all on the morning of Oct. 7.
It is unclear who started other recent fires in the area, beginning with two Molotov cocktails being thrown onto residential properties on the same street in Lazybrook at about 3 a.m. Oct. 4.
Heights resident Brendan Posterick said his 2017 Toyota Rav4 was set fire early Oct. 8 outside of his apartment at the intersection of West 18th Street and Harvard Street. He also said he was told by HFD that there was another blaze on 18th Street around the same time his car caught fire.
“It’s awful,” Posterick said. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
Pena said in a Sunday text message that there was another recent vehicle fire at 836 Nicholson St.
The fire department’s public information office has not specified or confirmed the locations, dates and times of other apparent acts of arson in the area during October.
Hargrove said he thought the burned car behind his office was a random act, and not part of a series of fires, until informed by a reporter on Tuesday.
“We want to make sure we’re giving the public all the information that we are allowed to give them at this time, without impacting the investigation itself,” Pena said. “But the public can feel secure and assured that we’re doing everything we can to make sure they’re safe.”