caught on camera

Arsonist Caught on Video Torching Three Cars in East Garfield Park

Landlord offers $2,000 to catch the man seen on camera lighting the fire, then walking away.

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An arson that destroyed three parked cars behind two East Garfield Park apartment buildings earlier this month was caught on home surveillance video, with the buildings' owner offering a reward to catch the suspect.

"It could have seriously hurt people," said building owner Alex Roman, who also lives in one of the buildings on West Polk Street. "My neighbor has a baby at home, my tenants have little dogs and cats. It could have been so much worse."

Roman said he was woken up by sparks flying in his backyard around 2:45 a.m. on Sept. 17, but first assumed they could have been fireworks from Mexican Independence Day celebrations.

It took only moments for him to realize it was something far more dangerous.

"If it caught fire to the trees [in the backyard], it could have easily spread to at least two buildings," said Roman. "There’s a garage right next to the two cars that caught fire, and that could have easily caught fire."

Firefighters arrived within minutes, Roman said, and no one was injured. Three cars in total were destroyed.

The Chicago Police Department said in a statement that they have been investigating this case as an arson. Roman's surveillance video captured a man calmly pour a liquid on two cars, then showed him igniting the liquid.

The video shows him quickly walking away, leaving the engulfed cars behind.

"I just couldn’t believe it was happening," said Roman. "I was so angry. I thought it was just a cowardly act."

Roman said his tenants did not recognize the man and could not identify anyone who would target them or their property. He said the three tenants affected, all women, now must make alternate transportation arrangements for work or school.

"I had a tenant tell me she couldn’t sleep for a couple nights, because this happened at 3:00 a.m.," said Roman.  "Logically, she goes to sleep thinking, 'Is this guy going to come back? Is this going to happen again?'"

Roman said he would be willing to increase the reward if no one comes forward right away. He said he wants police to solve this case so everyone in the neighborhood can sleep easier at night. He also said he's very glad he had surveillance cameras set up.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, it doesn’t catch anything, just people walking," said Roman. "But that one percent of the time, it earns its value."

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