- Reporters Desk
By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor
City officials announced the arrest of suspect Nick Pecarich in connection with string of vandalism act that culminated in the arson of the San Pedro Elks Lodge #966 in early hours of April 15.
“It is with great pride that I announce the arrest of 78-year-old Nick Pecarich, of San Pedro, in connection with the April 15 greater alarm structure fire here at the San Pedro Elks Lodge,” said Councilman Joe Buscaino at an April 29 press conference. “The District Attorney’s Office has enough probable cause to make this arrest and it’s very case sensitive. We need to respect the judicial process moving forward and know that as swiftly as the agencies move forward on this arrest, we expect the judicial system to do the same.”
Arson investigators have remained tight lipped about the incident. Los Angeles Fire Department Deputy Chief Donald Frazier said he was unable to confirm when or where he would be arraigned. The only information that was made public was that he was arrested somewhere within the City of Los Angeles.
“Since there is additional casework to conduct, no comment will be made about the factors, which led to his arrest,” Frazier said.
Arson investigators confirmed his arrest in the early afternoon of April 29. Pecarich was booked at the Los Angeles Police Department Metropolitan Detention Center for violation of Penal Code Section 451(c), Arson of a Structure. He is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail. The case will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office. A booking photo is not being released at this time.
Community members believe Pecarich, who is suspected of being involved in the damaging of properties in the area on April 13, is being investigated in relation to was also responsible for the fire.
Sources who talked on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing nature of the investigation described Pecarich as a strong, tall, mean-spirited, older man, in his late 70s, dealing with loss and health issues. In the past year, Pecarich had increasingly become inappropriate and verbally aggressive with acquaintances, some of whom have asked him to stay away.
Surveillance cameras show a vehicle backing into a large, glass door fixture at the side of Via Dolce Café in Rancho Palos Verdes at about 3:53 a.m. April 13.
“We can’t say what’s on the surveillance until the investigation is complete,” said Stephen Mollner, whose wife owns Via Dolce.
By 4:45 a.m. a surveillance camera in at a San Pedro residence showed someone pulling a vehicle from the home out off the driveway and crashing onto it with his silver Honda Ridgeline.
That morning, after the vehicle was moved off the street, Pecarich asked an occupant of the home what had happened.
Around 8 a.m. the vehicle was recognized after the watching the surveillance.
The occupants of the home contacted the police,who after seeing the surveillance video, which did not clearly show his face, went to speak to Pecarich. He denied the incident and they did not make an arrest. Soon after the police left, Pecarich drove slowly through the street with the rope still dangling from the back of the car.
Later that day, a woman, of San Pedro, discovered her vehicle also was damaged. The other woman’s husband discovered broken glass that did not belong to her vehicle on the pavement. The woman said it was consistent with the type of industrial glass and green paint stains from the coffee shop. The same evidence that was also found evidence of that glass near the driveway of the other home.
Also that morning, the Los Angeles Fire Department was called in to put out a small vegetation fire at the Elks Lodge, which lodge members believe was set on purpose.
Sources believe that Pecarich may have gone to the woman’s home after the damaging of the property at the coffee shop and headed to the other home, where surveillance cameras identified the vehicle, then he set the small fire at the Elks, before coming back to that home.
The sources said his vehicle was impounded once the reports were taken by the affected people. By that time everything in the back of Pecarich’s truck was gone. On April 14, Pecarich was seen driving a similar black-colored vehicle. Sources said he told other people that his car was stolen and that the insurance had issued him that vehicle.
The people whose property was damaged all knew Pecarich because he was a regular at the coffee shop.
On April 21, the Daily Breeze reported that, on April 15, a man with a truck similar in description to the truck Pecarich was seen driving on April 14, appeared in the video footage of a nearby 24-hour Chevron gas station on Western Avenue. The man in the surveillance video bought a lighter and filled a 5-gallon can with gasoline at about 2:25 p.m.
An attendant said that the owner of Chevron was told to no longer answer any questions and that he is no longer commenting on the matter.
Soon after, the fire at Elks Lodge was ignited. Rumors mentioned that an Elks Lodge neighbor saw a black vehicle driving off in the middle of night from the scene of the fire.
Sources believe Pecarich, who was a regular card player at the lodge, may have wanted to retaliate after being asked to leave the lodge and making threats.
At first, arson investigators dismissed suspicions that Pecarich was involved in Elks arson because they had another suspect as a person of interest. That man, who was some describe as former disgruntled employee, did not own a car. The former employee was cleared of suspicions, sources said.
On April 16, Pecarich was seen pacing up and down the street, lifting his shirt and putting his hands in his pants, as if he had a weapon. The police were called. After officers, who came that day, were shown the surveillance video, the watch commander came and told them the suspect would be arrested and advised all affected parties to place a restraining order on the alleged suspect. He was charged with felony vandalism.
Police also found a stolen boat in his driveway. He was bailed out on $20,000 bail, but sources were told he was taken in on a 5150 to a psychiatric ward for observation on April 17.
“I look out every night terrified that that guy is going catch us on fire,” one of the affected persons said. “We are all terrified.”
While they are not allowed to say where Pecarich is at this time, investigators have assured the affected parties that they are safe from him.
Sources said that Pecarich admitted to the vandalism on both vehicles late that week.
“We want to make sure that our customers are safe and that we are safe,” said Mollner, about the sensitivity of the case. “And that he gets help.”
Some sources cautioned that this all is circumstantial evidence at this time and that suspicions that taken as fact may result litigation issues.
The damage to the 33,744-square-foot building was devastating.
“Here in San Pedro our heart have been charred, but our spirits remain strong,” said Councilman Buscaino, an Elks member. “We will rebuild this lodge. This lodge will be bigger and better.”
In the meanwhile, the Dalmatian American Club has open their doors to Elks members for their meetings and activities.