Police have arrested a woman in a series of arson fires that have plagued a blighted area of a downtown redevelopment project. They have enough evidence to charge her with four of the 10 fires recently occurring in the neighborhood. Full stories published by the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Ogden Standard-Examiner, KTVX Channel 4, and KSL Channel 5.
Two previous stories on KTVX, "Investigators baffled by string of Ogden arson fires", and "Ogden investigators look for clues in string of suspicious fires", provide background on the case and convey the sense of terror experienced by residents of the affected neighborhood.
Forty-seven year old Marianne Mancuso of 336 18th St. was booked into the Weber County Jail on four second-degree felony counts of arson. The arrest comes on the heels of a house fire Tuesday October 21st at 373 18th St. The fire had been smouldering in the basement for a significant amount of time. About 3:30 a.m., someone reported seeing smoke. Firefighters responded and once they opened the boarded house, oxygen ignited the fire but it was quickly extinguished.
During the past three weeks, 10 arson fires have burned abandoned homes that are in the Ogden River Project area. Police believe Mancuso set fire to the same home at 1873 Kiesel Ave., three times and started a fourth fire at a house not far away.
Fire investigators believe the motive for the fires is tied to the ongoing redevelopment project in the area. Police told KSL that Mancuso confessed to four of the ten fires, telling them she had a specific motive. "In her interview she said she acted alone in her involvement to speed the River Project up," Sgt. Kyle Bosgieter with the Ogden Major Crimes Bureau. Police also say she was present at most, if not all, of the fires in the area. They say she even reported one of them herself. Her involvement in the other fires has not been ruled out.
Update: On October 22nd, KUTV reported that Mancuso made her first court appearance, and bail was set at $30,000. A public defender is also being appointed. Mancuso has implicated nobody else in the fires.
The fire department estimates it has spent nearly $100,000 fighting the fires set on Kiesel Avenue by Mancuso.
In 2007, officials broke ground on the first phase of the redevelopment project. Plans were also approved for the Ogden Riverfront Neighborhood, which is designed to take 51 acres of downtown Ogden and turn it into a mixed use urban/residential neighborhood and business research park. The land that will be used is in the general area of Wall Avenue to Washington Boulevard from 20th to 18th streets, part of the heart of downtown where the Ogden River runs. It is also the area that has been the scene of many of the fires. The redevelopment project has been in tandem with efforts to clean up the Ogden River. However, some critics of the project have said the renewed efforts to revitalize the area come at the expense of long-time homeowners who may be forced out.
The Weber County Forum also covered this story, and has devoted considerable bandwith towards discussing the Ogden River Project in this series of posts, for those who are interested in understanding the complexity and controversy accompanying this project. In comments posted to WC Forum, one person considers Mancuso a "hero", while another considers her a "zero". I lean towards the latter point of view, since the second person also describes Mancuso as a "serial arsonist".
Mancuso has a Utah criminal record, including misdemeanor convictions for theft, reckless driving and altering a prescription, according to court records.
Update December 24th: KSL Channel 5 and the Salt Lake Tribune report that on December 22nd, Mancuso was ruled competent to stand trial. She remains jailed in lieu of $15,000 bail, which was reduced from the original $30,000. Her next hearing is scheduled for January 12th.
Analysis: Unfortunately, laws do not permit the state to prosecute Mancuso to my satisfaction. Because she committed arson for political purposes, and did it multiple times, she's not merely an arsonist, but a domestic terrorist. Anyone who commits person or property crimes in the name of politics is acting on terroristic motives. Those fires could have easily engulfed neighboring homes and claimed innocent lives.
True justice would not merely require incarceration, but also full restitution, not only of the $100,000 spent fighting the fires, but also the assessed value of the homes burned at the time of their destruction.