Four men charged in 2006 church fire

| April 30, 2010

Four men are being sought after they were charged this week in the June 2006 fire of a South Austin church, according to arrest affidavits.

Qareman "Cameron" Dlawar Showani , 19 , Eric "Raven" Rodriguez , 22 , Nickolay Nikolaev Koutzarov , 22, and Erik Michael Monson , 21, have all been charged with arson, a second-degree felony, in connection with the fire at St. John's Presbyterian Church near Brodie and Hewitt lanes , the affidavit said.

A female teen who was with the group was charged at the time with arson, a second-degree felony, officials said. They declined to release her name because she is a minor, but they said she served jail time and is no longer incarcerated.

The four men being sought, who in some cases have moved away, each face bail amounts of $5,000 , the affidavit said.

In the hours leading up to the fire, "the group was 'drinking and messing around,'\u2009" Koutzarov told investigators, according to the affidavits, which were issued this week .

St. John's pastor Scott Sandahl said the charges help bring closure in the incident, which resulted in improvements at the church, such as painting and other renovations, he said.

At the time, the fire at the single-story, 6,000-square-foot church drew concerns that it might have been the result of a hate crime. The damage was estimated to be $30,000 to $50,000.

Travis County Fire Marshal Hershel Lee said it took time to gather enough information to issue the warrants.

"Sometimes you know pretty soon who does something, but you're not always ready to go forward with your affidavits," Lee said.

The incident began after the men, all teens at the time, joined friends at the home of the female teen to drink beer the evening of June 6, 2006 , the affidavit said.

The teens left to drive around after several hours of drinking, and the female took a gasoline container along, the affidavit said.

"As they were leaving, they were chanting 'destruction' over and over," one of the teens, John Joe "J.J." Ramirez, told investigators, the affidavit said. Ramirez told investigators that the plans for the night included burning a church, the affidavit said.

After stopping at a convenience store at Slaughter and Brodie lanes , the teens drove through neighborhoods and then decided to set fire to the church, the affidavit said. Some of the teens got out of the vehicle, the affidavit said.

Ramirez told investigators that the "incident became too much for him and \u2026 walked home," the affidavit said. "One he arrived home, he called 3-1-1 to report the incident."

Police were later called to the home of the female teen, where a disturbance took place, the affidavit said.

She had a history of setting fires at other locations and was taken into custody, the affidavit said. As she was being booked on unrelated charges, police noticed she smelled of gasoline and had burn marks on her legs.

Later, a search of her clothes turned up a cap to a gasoline container, the affidavit said.

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Category: Church Security

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