16 Fires Started Downtown, Hillcrest

Metro Arson Strike Team investigating the fires

By Lauren Steussy
|  Wednesday, Sep 12, 2012  |  Updated 12:49 PM PDT
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Downtown Coffee Cart Burned Down

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Sixteen fires were started early Wednesday morning throughout Downtown San Diego and Hillcrest,  authorities said.

The series of fires claimed mostly trash cans and dumpsters, as well as a beloved coffee cart in Civic Center Plaza downtown, according to the Metro Arson Strike Team Captain Ed Filio.

The string of suspected arson fires began at about 2 a.m. in Hillcrest. Numerous dumpsters and trash cans were burning in alley-ways and streets.

Just before 4 a.m., authorities responded to a dumpster fire in the dock-way of Civic Center Plaza. Shortly after, authorities discovered that the Ja Java coffee cart in the plaza was also on fire.

Several other fires appeared down Fourth and Fifth Ave. One fire was discovered on the second floor of Horton Plaza mall, but by the time mall employees arrived to work at about 6:30 a.m., the fire was already extinguished.

Security guards detained 56-year-old David Kelley Lawson after he was witnessed attempting to set cardboard on fire in front of the federal building on 880 Front Street, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department said.

Lawson, believed to be homeless, was turned over to the San Diego Police Department. He now faces 16 arson charges.

About $1,200 in damage was reported in Hillcrest. The Downtown losses totaled about $50,730. Investigators are still trying to determine a motive and tie the suspect to all fires.

The Ja Java coffee cart was almost completely burned down, owners told NBC 7. Several Twitter-users took pictures and shared their remorse upon discovering the dilapidated remains of the cart in the morning.

Click here to see pictures of the damage to the cart.

"This was our full-time career," said co-owner Jenny Garrett. "We’re down here every day, so I’m a little shaken up."

Garrett and her husband own the cart and received a call at about 5:30 a.m. that the cart was set on fire. The coffee cart damages totaled about $30,000 plus $20,000 for the contents inside, the Fire-Rescue department said.

About a year ago, a different coffee cart was forced to close as a result of an Occupy encampment in the plaza, the owners told NBC 7.

Ed. Note: A previous version of this article reported 19 fires throughout Hillcrest and Downtown San Diego. The story has been modified to reflect the correct amount.

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