A witness who provided investigators with information about a person fleeing a suspicious fire in Laguna Canyon led to the arrest of a suspected arsonist, police announced Thursday.
Thomas Dylan Richeson, 27, of Laguna Beach, was arrested by detectives Wednesday, Dec. 14, in connection with a Nov. 18 brush fire determined to have been intentionally set on a hillside above Laguna Canyon Road, Sgt. Tim Kleiser says in a statement.
Richeson is a longtime user of the city-owned homeless shelter known as the Alternative Sleeping Location, according to Leonard Porto, 60, who maintains ties to the local homeless population in Laguna Beach. People bed down outside the 45-person ASL, which regularly reaches capacity.
The shelter is managed by the Friendship Shelter. Executive Director Dawn Price could not confirm if Richeson is a shelter client.
“In general, many people don’t want to stay at the ASL because of violence and health; you’re sleeping six inches away from a person next to you,” said Porto, who was homeless for two years prior to obtaining an apartment in 2012.
Investigators used nearby video footage to identify the person, and Richeson was interviewed and subsequently arrested, Kleiser said.
The 6:16 p.m. vegetation fire erupted behind the ASL at 20652 Laguna Canyon Road. Within a few of hours, fire crews and water-dropping helicopters extinguished the blaze, helped by calm conditions. The fire burned over an acre of brush, forcing the evacuation of the shelter and igniting fears among canyon residents.
For Porto, the arrest “indicates the gravity of the need for oversight of people who are mentally ill, who can’t protect themselves.”
Canyon resident Greg Nichols comes to a different conclusion. “The homeless need to be moved into an area that can be well monitored, for all of our safety,” he said in a letter to the editor in this week’s edition.