18-year-old charged with arson in St. Paul storage facility fire

An 18-year-old from Golden Valley is being charged for his alleged role in an August St. Paul storage facility fire.

Luis Rodriguez was charged with felony second-degree arson and felony negligent fires Monday in Ramsey County court.

On Aug. 21, St. Paul police assisted with a call of a group of warehouses on fire on the north side of Selby Avenue, just west of Hamline Avenue. Chopper footage showed that the mixed-use storage facility housing "thousands" of tires had collapsed as a result of the blaze.

Two days later, investigators announced that they believed the fire was set intentionally.

According to a complaint, a witness who works at a company adjacent to the storage facility saw a black sedan park across from the building and five male juveniles carrying grocery bags get out, walking under a bridge. The witness thought this was suspicious since there are no homes or businesses where they were heading, so he wrote down the sedan’s license plate number and later provided police with surveillance video. He then heard a few pops and the facility burst into flame.

The video confirmed the witness’s account, the complaint states. The group got out, took things out of the car’s trunk, and walked under the bridge and came back toward their car as smoke began to rise.

Officers contacted the sedan’s owner, who said that it did belong to her, but that her teenage son had been driving it on Aug. 21. This suspect was interviewed by police and told them he "enjoys exploring" the Selby Avenue warehouses, the complaint says. He also told police we went there with four friends, heard some yelling in the next room and stumbled upon a box on fire near pallets. Despite their efforts, the flames spread.

According to the complaint, that suspect, along with Rodriguez, a second 18-year-old and two other juveniles left without reporting the fire. The aforementioned suspect told authorities that Rodriguez set the fire with a lighter.

Five ladder trucks, 16 crews, four ambulances and roughly 86 personnel responded to the three-alarm fire, according to St. Paul Deputy Fire Chief Mike Gaede. It was first reported around 5:45 p.m. and took crews more than 21 hours to fully extinguish it.

The other 18-year-old suspect told officers that he had gone with friends to explore the warehouses, the complaint states. He said the boys found boxes of paper and that he held up an envelope that Rodriguez set on fire with a lighter; that self-extinguished. Rodriguez, according to the suspect, then set the entire box on fire. The 17-year-old dumped more paper on the fire and it grew out of control, according to the complaint.

Rodriguez, when interviewed by police, said they got into a building through an unsecured overhead garage door and found the boxes of paper. He admitted to setting the papers on fire, but was "remorseful" and "wanted to take all the responsibility," the complaint states.

Ultimately, the building was considered a total loss and there are thousands of dollars in damage, according to court filings. A nearby building owned by Concordia University suffered damage and the Selby Avenue bridge was inspected for heat damage but reopened on Aug. 23.

Rodriguez’s first appearance in court is on Nov. 1.