On November 22, 2013, at 0703 hours, LAFD resources including Light Force 35, Engine 56, Engine 82, Light Force 50, Engine 52, Rescue Ambulance 56, Rescue Ambulance 82, EMS 11 and Battalion 5, were dispatched to a reported explosion and structure fire in the 4400 block of Dundee Drive. Within minutes of the initial dispatch Metro Fire Communications received multiple calls of fire showing from a dwelling in the Los Feliz area near Griffith Park, and added Task Force 27, Rescue Ambulance 35 and North Division. The responding companies found a hillside single-family residence with heavy fire showing from the attached garage and much of the street level floor. They soon determined that the house was a hillside tri-level structure with two sublevel floors. The firefighters encountered a significant amount of fire on both the street level and first sublevel floors, and utilized an aggressive interior attack to achieve extinguishment.
Firefighters were informed that the home was normally occupied by 62 year-old male whose whereabouts were unknown. They conducted another thorough search for the resident and verified that no was inside the home. Battalion 5 then directed fire companies to hold off on overhaul and to secure the scene, and requested the response of an Arson Unit.
Several LAFD Arson investigators and an ATF agent assigned to the Arson Section responded to the fire scene and initiated an investigation. Investigators found significant fire, heat and smoke damage throughout the top two floors of the dwelling, along with burn patterns that were consistent with multiple areas of fire origin and an odor of gasoline in the upstairs hallway. The lead investigator contacted the LAFD Arson accelerant detection canine handler and requested that he respond with K-9 “Major” to assist with the scene investigation and possible collection of evidence.
While awaiting the arrival of the K-9 team, the investigators received information that an individual (suspect) had walked into the front lobby of the LAPD Hollywood police station and advised the desk officer that he had committed an arson and wanted to turn himself in. The lead investigator and his partner responded to the Hollywood police station while the remainder of the investigative team continued with the fire scene examination.
Once at the police station, the arson investigators contacted the suspect, who identified himself as Siregan Akop Barsegian, and directed him to an interview room where they conducted a videotaped interview. Barsegian waived his Miranda rights and then explained to the investigators that the Dundee Drive home had belonged to his parents, and that several months after their death he had moved into the vacant house while his siblings were involved in a legal battle over the property that would eventually leave him homeless and without a financial interest in the property. Barsegian said this had angered him to the point that he decided to burn the house, and he decided ahead of time that he would turn himself in to the authorities and explain the situation.
Barsegian then described how on the night before the fire he had purchased a gas can from the Home Depot and then filled it with gasoline at a nearby 76 gas station. Barsegian said that on the morning of the fire he had a cup of coffee and then proceeded to distribute gasoline in several rooms on the top two floors, beginning with his former bedroom. Barsegian said he left the gas container in the hallway near the garage door and then used his lighter to ignite a piece of paper which he dropped into the hallway before exiting through the garage. Barsegian said that 5 to 10 minutes later he heard sirens and could see smoke up on the hill as he drove to his friend’s house to park his car, and then took a bus to the police station. Barsegian said he knew that sooner or later he would get caught, so he wanted to turn himself in and tell the truth, and said he was ready to face the consequences.
The investigators then contacted the investigative team at the fire scene and learned that the Arson K-9 handler had identified and collected evidence samples of fire debris that contained gasoline from multiple locations within the street and first sublevel floors, along with the melted remnants of a red plastic gasoline container from the hallway adjacent to the garage door. The arson investigators then booked Barsegian pursuant to Penal Code Section 451(b), Arson of an Inhabited Structure.
The lead arson investigator, along with LAFD Arson Forensic Photographer Harry Garvin, subsequently conducted a follow-up to the Home Depot on Sunset Boulevard and the 76 Station on Los Feliz Boulevard, where they obtained surveillance video of Barsegian purchasing a five-gallon gas container and then filling it with gasoline on the night prior to the fire.
The lead arson investigator presented the case to Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney, assigned to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office – Arson Unit, for a felony complaint filing for one count of 451(b) P.C. D.D.A. Carney filed one count of 451(b) P.C.; one count of 451.1 P.C., an Aggravated Arson special allegation for using an ignitable liquid; and one count of 667.5 (b) P.C., a Prior Felony conviction special allegation. On December 10, 2013, a preliminary hearing was held in the Criminal Courts Building in Downtown Los Angeles. D.D.A. Frances Young prosecuted the case with the lead arson investigator as the only witness called. Barsegian was held to answer on all counts, and on March 3, 2014, he pled guilty to the arson charge and received a four-year State Prison sentence. Upon completion of his sentence, which he must serve at least 80%, he will be turned over to Immigration Services for deportation proceedings.
Obviously the cooperation of the defendant accelerated and streamlined the arson investigation, but the successful prosecution of the case was still largely dependent upon the fact that fire suppression personnel recognized early on that investigators were needed and secured and preserved the fire scene, which allowed investigators the opportunity to accurately document and process the scene for evidence. This case is a good example of the teamwork necessary for a successful investigation and arson prosecution.