Wyoming police investigate string of fires, vehicle thefts

Police haven't yet linked suspect to fire at fireworks store

GS Fireworks fire Wyoming
Smoke billows from the GS Fireworks store in Wyoming. (July 5, 2016)


WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — Wyoming police say a man they arrested Tuesday morning is suspected of stealing two cars and setting at least one fire, though they haven’t yet been able to link him to another fire that destroyed a fireworks store.

That fire sparked at GS Fireworks on 44th Street SW near Burlingame Avenue sometime before 6:20 a.m. Fire officials say no one was injured, but the building appears to be a total loss.

Viewers sent video to 24 Hour News 8 of fireworks erupting during the fire, which continued as firefighters doused it with water.

“It was tons of them. You could totally tell the whole store was just letting off fireworks. It was insane,” store owner David Jewell said.

WOOD TV8 app users can click here to watch the video.

“The explosions sounded like a war zone,” said Brian Vanderschuur, who lives at Villa Esperanza Apartments near the fireworks store. The noise from the fire woke him up.

He said he saw some of the fireworks landed on a neighbor’s balcony, causing it to catch fire. He said he knocked on his neighbor’s door but no one answered.

“All I could see was just a giant flame going up about four feet,” he said.

He said he and another neighbor grabbed their fire extinguishers and put it out.

“It was my first time I’ve ever had to use one of these (fire extinguishers) so I didn’t know what to expect,” Vanderschuur said,.

Police say the suspect they arrested then stole an SUV from Villa Esperanza. He then apparently crashed it into a tree on 44th, and then tried to set it on fire by throwing a rag into the gas tank and lighting it.

“Crazy. He needs help,” Lissette Ceja Chavez, who owns the apartment from which the SUV was stolen, said of the suspect.

HOMEOWNER: INTRUDER DRANK JUICE, TOOK SHOWER, SET FIRE

Police say he then set off to the 4300 block of Oriole Avenue, less than a quarter of a mile from the apartments. Once there, he tried to get in to a home and found the door was locked. He moved on to a second residence, which had an unlocked side door.

The owner of that home, Mary Covarruvias, said she and her husband bought it just four days ago. She was at work when the suspect walked into her house.

“Decided to just check doors our door was unlocked on the side and just decided to come in,” she said. “He apparently took a shower while he was there. Took orange juice out of our refrigerator, took a trash bag out of our sink filled it up with clothes, I think.”

Covarruvias said her teen stepson was sleeping on the couch and was awoken by the intruder. He initially thought the suspect was a worker who was expected to come by. Then the man asked for his car keys.

“He (the stepson) said, ‘What are you doing with the keys?’ Then he noticed he (the suspect) had orange juice and a bag and he thought something was weird,” Corvarruvias said.

“He (the stepson) said he (the suspect) had red eyes and he looked nervous,” she continued. “He looked shaky, kind of nervous, agitated. That’s when he got alarmed.”

The teen ran away.

“Thank God he wasn’t hurt,” his stepmother said.

The man then stole the teen’s car — but not before setting another fire.

“I don’t know what craziness he was thinking and just decided to throw something in our bedroom over there and just started a fire,” Corvarruvias said.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for the Corvarruvias family. Click here to donate.

SUSPECT ARRESTED WHILE DRIVING THE WRONG WAY

The suspect was caught on 36th Street near Burlingame around 8:40 a.m. Police say he was driving the wrong way and officers rammed the car into a curb in order to stop it.

Suspect in Wyoming fireworks store fire arrested
Wyoming arson suspect strapped to gurney and loaded into ambulance. (July 5, 2016)

Before being loaded into an ambulance, the suspect apparently tried resisting arrest. He was strapped to a gurney and loaded into an ambulance.

Two Wyoming officers involved in the arrest were examined at a local medical center, but were not injured.

Police initially told 24 Hour News 8 that suspect, a 34-year-old Muskegon man, had been linked to at least three fires in the Wyoming area. However, during an afternoon news conference, Wyoming police Lt. Mark Easterly said they haven’t been able to connect the suspect to the fire at GS Fireworks.

The state fire marshal was expected to be on the scene of the GS Fireworks fire later Tuesday to investigate.

FIREWORKS STORE OWNER: ‘IT SEEMS LIKE A BAD DREAM’

Jewell, the owner of the fireworks store, said his security company called him at 6:22 a.m. and said that the security alarms had been tripped. He had gotten similar calls in the past and they had been false alarms, but Tuesday’s case was different.

“I jumped out of bed quick, literally just threw my clothes on drove over here. When I was coming down Burlingame and I saw the black smoke. My heart just dropped,” Jewell said.

He bought the store in 2013 and did most of the renovations by himself before opening in 2014.

“It seems like a bad dream right now,” he said after the fire. “My heart’s aching. All the hundreds of hours I would put in after working a full day at a tool and dye shop.”

He said he doesn’t understand why anyone would target him and the business he poured his heart into.

He said his stock was largely spared from the fire, saving some of his product. He credited the Wyoming Fire Department with encouraging him to put a two-hour fire wall between his store and his warehouse. He said he has insurance and intends to rebuild.

“I’m not just going to lay over and die and feel sorry for myself. We’re going to move forward,” Jewell said.

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