AUSTIN, Texas — An Austin Fire Department arson investigator said there is probable cause to arrest a 26-year-old woman for intentionally setting a fire at a four-plex in South Austin.
Lieutenant Scott Hembree, a fire and arson investigator with the AFD, said he believed 26-year-old Richelle Williams did commit arson, a first-degree felony, at 9903 Roxanna Dr. at 3:28 a.m. on June 21. He has filed an affidavit for an arrest warrant to be issued for Williams.
At that time, the AFD responded to the four-plex at that location for a reported structure fire. On arrival, fire crews found the front of the building engulfed in flames. The staircase to the second-floor apartments was on fire and tenants had to be rescued from the balcony of a second-floor apartment.
The fire displaced a total of 19 people.
According to the affidavit, the Austin Police Department told the AFD Incident Commander APD had responded to several calls at that address earlier in the evening, and the complainant in those calls, Williams, had acted strangely and possibly given false information. Due to the fact that Williams' apartment was involved in the fire and she was on scene, AFD Fire Investigators were called to the scene.
Fire investigators conducted interviews with APD officers and occupants of the building, including Williams. According to the affidavit, over the course of the investigation, the following information came to light:
Williams was in a relationship with a woman she was living with at the four-plex. Williams had called 911 several times that night to report that a man had been dealing drugs from a vehicle in the parking lot – a vehicle that officers found was registered to the woman Williams was living with. Williams denied having any connection to the woman or the man. Later, when officers arrived at the scene, Williams was seen in the open door of the same vehicle.
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Investigators questioned Williams, who initially said she had discovered the fire in an outdoor storage closet and attempted to extinguish it herself. When questioned about the earlier calls to APD, Williams reiterated she didn't know the man she called about but she saw him dealing drugs. She said he left when police arrived on scene, and she confirmed she was in a relationship with the woman she lived with.
Investigators found the man was still on scene. He told them he had been romantically involved with Williams' partner and was trying to get back with her. He said that when he arrived at the apartment earlier that evening, Williams had gotten angry and an argument ensued because of Williams' relationship with her partner. When he was told Williams had called APD to have him arrested for dealing drugs, he said he was not dealing and Williams was trying to remove him because of Williams' partner. He showed investigators texts from Williams' partner, which confirmed Williams had been angry about him coming back into her life.
Investigators interviewed Williams' partner, who confirmed she had gone to the store with the man the previous evening and returned and parked her vehicle in the parking lot, where they were intimate. The affidavit noted that the vehicle was parked in a clear, unobstructed view of the apartment she shared with Williams.
She said a short time after, smoke could be seen coming from the front of the building. She said Williams and the other occupants of the building opened a closet door, and the fire grew until it engulfed the front of the building.
Investigators re-interviewed Williams, who they said admitted she had called 911 multiple times in an attempt to have the man arrested because of his interference in her relationship with her partner.
Investigators determined the cause of the fire to be arson. They also found a separate fire that had been set to a book in another closet adjacent to the closet where the main fire had originated.
The affidavit, filed in municipal court, states that probable cause exists to believe Williams had the means, motive and opportunity to set the fire and that a warrant should be issued for her arrest.
A spokesperson for the Austin Fire Department told KVUE on Tuesday afternoon a warrant had been filed for Williams, but she was not yet in custody.
KVUE spoke to people who live near where this happened.
"I hadn't seen anything like that in my life though to be honest with you," said Josh Ayers.
He said he saw flames through his window the morning of the fire.
"We were literally leaving for work and I saw that house on fire," said Ayers. "There’s a bunch of kids there so that was the first thing I thought was, you know, a bunch of little children – you know, are they alright."
It was the same feeling for Calvin Foley, who also lives nearby.
“This is far beyond what I’ve seen," said Foley.
Now, neighbors hope the families without a home recover from this soon.
"Hopefully, they don't have to deal with it no more because who would want to deal with it," said Foley.
"It's a bad situation. I could only imagine. I feel for 'em," said Ayers.
Officials said Friday the four-plex had experienced at least $150,000 in structural damage and about $50,000 in content damages. All 19 people displaced as a result of the fire are getting help from the Red Cross.
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