Felony arson charges to be brought in Ypsi’s Thompson Block fire

    1928According to police, they’re ready to make an arrest in relation to the September 23, 2009 fire which gutted Ypsilanti’s historic Thompson Block. The individual, a 21 year old man by the name of Jacob Robert-Andrew Popiolek, is thought to have fled the area. According to the Ypsi Citizen, Popiolek is a “160-pound white male standing at 6 feet, 3 inches tall with brown hair and brown eyes.” Individuals with knowledge of Popiolek and his whereabouts are asked to contact Detective Jason Cyrbok at the Ypsi Police Department (734-482-9872).

    As the better part of a year had passed, I was doubtful that we’d ever have a resolution, but it would seem as though investigators have considered Popiolek a suspect from the beginning… The following clip comes from AnnArbor.com:

    …Ypsilanti Police Chief Amy Walker said investigators are still trying to determine who else was with Popiolek that night. She said it appears the fire was caused by alcohol possibly sparked by a cigarette, and police have no evidence any other accelerant was used. But authorities said it was not an accident and was intentionally set.

    “This has been a lengthy investigation to determine how this fire started,” Walker said today. “We believe they were trespassing, a fire started, and it got out of control.”

    Washtenaw County Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steve Hiller declined to discuss the case this morning. But he said for someone to be charged with felony arson, he or she must “willfully and maliciously” set a fire…

    I should probably wait until all of the evidence is made public before weighing in, but it sounds odd to me. To begin with, given the condition of the building after the fire, I can’t imagine arson investigators were able to determine that the fire was started by a cigarette. It may well be true, but how it the world could they know, based on the surviving evidence? The only explanation I can think of is that they’ve got an eye witness who saw Popiolek set the fire. But, if that were the case, it seems as though charges would have been filed much earlier. I suppose it’s possible that it took them this long to put together a deal with the witness, etc, but it still seems odd to me. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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      12 Comments

      1. Knox
        Posted April 30, 2010 at 5:59 am | Permalink

        Investigators must have heard early on that this guy was hanging out there, but it must have taken them these last 8 months to get someone to put the cigarette in his hand and swear to it that it wasn’t an accident.

      2. Ted
        Posted April 30, 2010 at 8:10 am | Permalink

        Regardless of whether of not this ends up with an arson conviction, I blame Beal. He should have spent the money to secure the property. Everyone knew that people were going in and out of the building all the time that shouldn’t have been. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.

      3. notoneofthecoolkids
        Posted April 30, 2010 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        I have a feeling they got lucky and picked up someone on another charge and that person then gave up this guy for the fire. Annarbor.com reported that the State investigator quit before he completed his job. There has been no real investigation, no evidence. So I have a feeling that this charge won’t stick on just a “witness”.
        I also blame Beal. And why the hell was it no insured? Was it to much of a risk for the insurance companies? Would they not insure it because it needed upgrades in fire and safety? So irresponsible.

      4. Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink

        So the only proof that this was intentional will be the testimony of another bum who was also inside, most likely drinking and partying with the “suspect”? Give me a break! And if this building is such a precious historical treasure, then why was it left unsecured to become a hobo trap, and unrinal for the destitute? Tear that sum-bitch down, and give the owner a ticket for endangering the other properties around it.I think people would be singing a different tune to Mr. Beal if the fire would have spread to multiple houses on that block, or if someone in the Thompson or neighboring houses would have gotten burned up…

      5. Kim
        Posted April 30, 2010 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        The people who should be pissed at Beal are those investors who were backing him. If I’m not mistaken, people gave him money to build out the Thompson Block. If I’d given him money, I damned well would have made sure that he’d insured the building.

      6. Jon
        Posted April 30, 2010 at 11:34 am | Permalink

        In regards to securing a building, if someone wants to get into a structure, they’re going to get into it. I don’t know how well the Thompson Block was secured, but even if it was locked down tight someone could have still gotten into it. That it was vacant makes it even easier. That sort of “urban exploring” mindset is what started Detroit Blog. Not to mention Michigan wouldn’t have the thriving urban copper mining industry it has today if it were so easy to keep people out of vacant structures.

        In regards to evidence of how the fire started, an eye witness is far from a sure thing. Fire trails are interesting things to follow, and just because it started in one area doesn’t mean that is the section of the building that suffered the worst damage. This case could be built on something much more solid than an eye witness account or someone snitchin’. The cops aren’t saying, so unless you are one of them or one of their drinking buddies, you don’t know.

      7. Kestle7
        Posted April 30, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        I’ll second that comment about it likely being a lucky break. There’s no way the discovered evidence of a cigarette igniting rum, or whatever flammable booze they were drinking. They caught someone else who flipped on their friend in order to stay out of jail.

      8. Jon
        Posted April 30, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        Fires don’t burn the most intensely where they start but where there is the most fuel. The whole building didn’t burn down and police say the fire was intentionally set with a liquid propellant. It’s possible an arsonist could leave a trail of alcohol from a section of the building that is rich with flammable material to a section that lacks as many combustibles and is close to an exit, thus, helping ensure the arsonist’s safety and quick escape. If that’s the case, then there is a good chance the fire trail and original ignition source could still be there and easily found in a section of the building that was not badly damaged.

        That scenario doesn’t mean the cops would necessarily know the identity of who set it. But what if the arsonist, whom police said was drinking, accidentally left an empty bottle with a fingerprint on it or something that had some sort of identification on it or his cell phone or even his wallet? Criminals have done dumber stuff. If it was this guy, does he look like someone who would do a good job of covering his tracks?

      9. Posted April 30, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

        My guess is that there were a pickup full of empties in and around the building, covered in finger prints.

      10. Ted
        Posted May 3, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

        Any more word on this guy?

      11. Alice
        Posted August 27, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

        The suspect turned himself in in Arizona.

        http://www.annarbor.com/news/ypsilanti/suspect-in-thompson-block-arson-surrenders-to-authorities/

      12. Alice
        Posted July 13, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        The kid got 5 years probation.

        You can find the article here.

        http://www.annarbor.com/news/man-sentenced-in-depot-town-arson/

        My favorite quote is from Stewart Beal, who says “This was the most psychologically and emotionally damaging experience of my life.”

      One Trackback

      1. By Thompson block called safety hazard on August 10, 2010 at 9:12 pm

        [...] speaking of the former Civil War barracks, has anyone heard whether or not the individual accused of burning it down has been located by police? It’s been almost four months now since police began their search [...]

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