Man charged in connection with midtown church fire

| June 2, 2010

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) – Police have charged 30-year-old Gabriel Villaescusa with several counts in connection with a church fire Tuesday on Park Avenue near Grant. He's facing one count of arson, one count of criminal damage, and six counts of endangerment for the people who were inside the church.

The flames that scorched the front doors of Coronado Baptist Church began with anything but a bang.

"Just a thud," said Cheryl Crews, the pastor's wife, as she showed how her office is next to where the fire started. "Not a big sound, just a thud at the door, this first door here. My office is right there. And I looked up, and there was this fire shooting up under the door."

"The pastor's wife yelled out Mr. Lutz, Mr. Lutz, fire!" recalled church caretaker George Lutz. "The flames were coming up under the door. I immediately ran to the front of the church, grabbed the fire extinguisher."

Lutz called upon years of experience as he dealt with the fire about 10:30 Tuesday morning.

"My training kicked in. I wasn't really thinking, or nothing was going through my mind so much. It was the culmination of twelve years of fire training," he said.

"I think it's a shame that we've come to a place in our country that things like this happened," said pastor Vic Crews. He knew of other church arson investigations over the past two months. Flowing Wells Baptist Church, Alliance Bible Church, Northwest Community Friends Church, and Catalina Lutheran Church have all had suspicious blazes in the past two months.

"If the person they have in custody turns out to be that person, it would be a good thing, wouldn't it?" Vic Crews asked.

Because the other blazes are on the northwest side or in Catalina, the Pima County Sheriff is investigating that possibility. Three of the other fires started at the doors of the church, which is similar to the one at Coronado Baptist Church. The other, in Catalina, had the fire start at a window. But the doors at that church were metal.

Cheryl Crews gave thanks for what did not happen.

"God took care of us, nobody was hurt, and the man, I feel sorry for him that did this," she said. "But he was caught, and I just pray that he knows that he can be forgiven even though he did all of this."

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Category: Church Security

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