Man Arrested in Connection With Sam's Market Fire

Police Believe There May Be a Connection to Other Fires

Photo: Travis Churchill
Travis Churchill

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Police have arrested a Berkeley homeless man for allegedly setting the "suspicious" fire in front of Sam's Market on Telegraph Avenue early Tuesday morning.

Travis Churchill, 25, originally from Oregon, was found in People's Park later that day and taken into custody by Berkeley Police Department. The fire in front of the market was the 11th in a series of 12 fires that began July 16. Police believe there is a connection between the fires.

Police received a call reporting the fire at about 3:50 a.m. that morning, reporting the fire. One of several patrol officers investigating the series of fires detained Churchill shortly after the fire was discovered and took photographs of him before he was released. Property crimes detectives were able to identify Churchill by comparing the photographs to surveillance footage that showed him setting a recycling bin on fire outside of the market.

Churchill was wearing the same clothing in the photographs and in the video and was easily recognizable as the suspect in the footage, said Berkeley police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss. Once the detectives were confident of the identification, they went to Southside to look for Churchill, arrested him at 5:00 p.m. and booked him into the City of Berkeley Jail.

Kusmiss said detectives interviewed Churchill and he made partial admissions, stating that he was in the area near Sam's Market at the time of the fire, but he did not confess to deliberately setting the fire or any other fire.

The Alameda County District Attorney charged Churchill on Thursday with one count of a felony for arson of a structure. He is being held at the City of Berkeley Jail on $50,000 bail.

"We feel it is important to share that the investigation of the remaining arson continues," Kusmiss said. "And yet, since Churchill's arrest there have been no suspicious fires in the city of Berkeley with the same modus operandi. All of the cases in the series share a definitive similarity or link as the suspect lit the fire to the contents of a city of Berkeley recycling bin, and apparently deliberately pushed them against cars and the flames would cause the car to burn."

Churchill was arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court in Downtown Oakland Friday morning. He was assigned a defense attorney and entered a plea of not guilty. His next court appearance will be July 28 at 9:00 a.m.

Contact Caroline Cook at [email protected]

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