By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A police spokeswoman said that a house fire that destroyed an Orchidland Estates home on May 30 is the third suspected case of arson in Puna this year.
The home on 38th Avenue is a total loss, according to the Fire Department, which set damage to the property at $150,000.
“At this point in the investigation, we still have some follow-ups to do, but we don’t have any suspects at this time,” Lt. Greg Esteban said Friday.
The home’s owner, Paul Moniz, said that the house was burglarized and “trashed” on May 12, Mother’s Day, eight days before the fire.
“He did mention to police that the house was previously burglarized,” Esteban said.
Moniz said he lost most of his tools, a compressor and several hundred dollars in cash and coins in the Mother’s Day burglary. Broken dishes and other items were strewn around the house, he said. No one was home at the time of the burglary or the fire.
A home on Road 6 in Hawaiian Acres was destroyed April 6 in another fire police say was set intentionally.
A Kurtistown man, 26-year-old Justin James Clark, was indicted on Wednesday for allegedly torching the unoccupied house owned by Aezja Munson, who lives in Seattle. Munson’s adult son, Nate, came back from time to time to stay at the home, which is off the electrical grid, but the house hadn’t been occupied full time for about 20 years, Munson told the Tribune-Herald in April.
A preliminary hearing for Clark is scheduled for June 20 in Hilo District Court, but the indictment means the hearing will not be held and the case will be moved to Hilo Circuit Court for possible trial. He’s charged with first-degree arson, a Class A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
According to court documents filed by police, a neighbor to the house told police that Nate Munson had a sexual relationship with Clark’s ex-girlfriend while Clark was in jail and that Clark “wanted to shoot” Nate Munson. Two other witnesses told police that they had seen a cream-colored or mustard yellow Jeep Cherokee sport-utility vehicle leave the driveway of the home shortly before seeing the fire. They told police the SUV made “a right turn out of the highway at a high rate of speed” onto Road 6, documents state. Police said that both witnesses picked Clark out of a photographic lineup as the driver of the Jeep.
Clark told the Tribune-Herald on May 1 that he “neva done nothing.”
According to documents, Fire Inspector Robert Perreira told officers that arson was suspected after a dog “alerted to the presence of an ignitable liquid on the front stairway and landing to the structure. …”
The Tribune-Herald went to the scene of the fire. While firefighters battled the blaze, Clark walked down Road 6 past the driveway to the home and asked firefighters, police and media if they had seen his dog. A few minutes later, Clark had found a dog and was petting the animal.
Clark was arrested on May 6.
The other Puna house fire being investigated as an arson occurred on March 20 on 35th Avenue in Orchidland.
Fire officials says the home was unoccupied and police said that, to date, there are no suspects in the blaze, which did an estimated $100,000 in damage.
Tribune-Herald staff writer Hunter Bishop contributed. Email John Burnett at email@example.com.