San Jose police have identified a serial arson suspect who is a registered sex offender as well as a "registered" arsonist who was convicted for setting a fire at Grand Canyon National Park nearly 20 years ago. Damian Trujillo and Marianne Favro report.
San Jose police have identified a serial arson suspect who is a registered sex offender as well as a "registered" arsonist who was convicted for setting a fire at Grand Canyon National Park nearly 20 years ago.
Police identified the alleged arsonist as Patrick William Brennan. He was arrested Wednesday evening in connection with a string of a dozen intentionally set fires from Jan. 8 to Jan. 12, including a five-alarm blaze on Jan. 9 that destroyed a 125,000-square-foot warehouse. Firefighters originally said that the warehouse fire was not connected to the serial arsons.
For the past few months Brennan lived in a small trailer in a mobile home park on East San Antonio Road in San Jose. That is where police found him and took him in for questioning Wednesday night, before eventually arresting him.
The fires were set in Brennan's neighborhood, investigators said, and he had been under surveillance since Sunday.
San Jose Police Sgt. Jason Kidwell said it was "consistency" that helped catch Brennan. The officer cracked the case by plugging information into several databases.
"Slowly but surely, the suspect kind of came up to the top of the pile," Kidwell said. "He matched the description. He had a criminal profile that matched."
Kidwell also said the surveillance video reconfirmed to investigators Brennan as the suspect.
Brennan’s neighbors told NBC Bay Area they are relieved.
“I was really scared,” Sylvia Mondragon said, “especially with the fires so close. I never knew the guy lived here so close to our house.”
Brennan's current home is just a few yards from a church, which he is now accused of setting on fire.
Neighbors describe Brennan as a loner, and chain smoker, who often carried a police scanner.
“He didn’t talk to anybody,” Dave Stamp said. “He would just go about his business and we would go about ours.”
Brennan is being held on $1 million bail.
RAW VIDEO: 5-Alarm Warehouse Fire in San Jose
Brennan is also a convicted sex offender, and a registered arsonist in Campbell, according to San Jose police, dating back to a fire he was convicted of setting at Grand Canyon National Park in 1995.
In the San Jose case, Brennan was charged with two counts of arson, though Assistant Chief of Police Edgardo Garcia said that more charges are likely to be added.
"We are extremely confident" that this is the arson suspect, Garcia said at a news conference Thursday. He added that investigators searched Brennan's home and found "additional indicia" in his home, linking him, allegedly, as the "person who committed these crimes."
Garcia said a "hardworking midnight sergeant" looked at criminal databases and Brennan's name piqued his interest because of his past arson convictions in California and "out of state." When Brennan was interviewed about the crimes, Garcia described him as "forthcoming," and "not agitated." On Jan. 11, police had released a sketch of a "real skinny" man with distinctive glasses, along with a $10,000 reward for information leading up to his arrest. In photos provided by police, Brennan was not seen in any glasses.
In 1999, a suspect identified as Patrick Brennan, who was 33 at the time, was arrested by the California Department of Forestry in connection with a string of 16 fires set in the hills above Los Gatos, Cupertino and San Jose, according to several media reports including this article in MetroActive. At the time, according to the paper, he worked at a car wash and was considered a "family man" who was a frequent hiker in county parks.
San Jose Police Sgt. Heather Randol confirmed to NBC Bay Area that Brennan was connected to both those fires.
Registered arsonists, like registered sex offenders, must log in at their city police departments if they have been convicted of arson. The list is maintained by the California Department of Justice, which notes in its annual report that 7,500 properties were destroyed by arson in 2012 compared to 11,400 in 2007. In the same time period, 940 people were arrested statewide on arson charges in 2012, compared to 1,030 in 2007. (PDF)
Despite the number of fires, no one was injured during any of the dozen San Jose blazes, which cropped up mostly in the downtown area of the city -- at a garage, on back porches, by the Greater Saint John Baptist Church on San Antonio Street, at older Victorian homes and a warehouse. Most of the fires were reported between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
The biggest fire was at an industrial warehouse at 1325 Julian Street, which destroyed the 125,000-square-foot building and a nearby hay barn. Schools closed, power was cut off and noxious smoke filled the air for hours.
And the seeming randomness of the fires - still without any known motive - put many on edge. Which house could be next?
Some, including Jose Lara, decided to patrol his own neighborhood.
"Everybody's just scared right now," Lara said in a previous interview. "Everybody's just thinking about it. To see where he's going to target. Where he's going to do his thing and stuff. Everybody's afraid."
Other residents, such as Sharon and James LaVinga, lost most everything they owned when a blaze torched their home of 45 years in mid-January.
The couple, who are in their 60s, live on a fixed income and couldn't afford the higher fire insurance premiums, and so they are without any help to rebuild.
"Basically take it one day at a time," said Sharon La Vigna in a previous interview. "We got out of there with the clothes on our back, and our lives. That's pretty much what we ended up with."
NBC Bay Area's Peggy Bunker, George Kiriyama and Damian Trujillo contributed to this report.