Downtown Los Angeles apartment complex fire suspect pleads not guilty to arson charges

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A Los Angeles man suspected of setting a massive fire that destroyed a downtown Los Angeles apartment complex last year pleaded not guilty to charges of arson at his arraignment Thursday.

Dawud Abdulwali was charged by the Los Angeles County district attorney with one count each of arson of a structure and aggravated arson. At his arraignment, Abdulwali pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors said he was planning to leave the country, which is one of the reasons his bail is set at $1 million.

The 56-year-old was arrested on Tuesday over an unrelated traffic charge in Los Angeles. Fire officials said Abdulwali was connected to the December 2014 blaze through electronic and physical evidence.

The complex was under construction at the time of the blaze, which was deemed arson by a national response team with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The fire caused between $25 million to $30 million in damage to the Da Vinci Apartments and upwards of $50 million to $60 million in damage to an adjacent city building.

ATF Agent Carlos Canino, who was in charge of the investigation, said authorities spent 15,000 man hours investigating the fire.

"Make no mistake about it. This was a cowardly act. If it wasn't for the skill of those firefighters that night, it would have been a lot worse," Canino said.

According to the complaint filed by the district attorney, the fire was started by an accelerant on the fourth floor of the apartment complex.

ATF officials said the accelerant caused the flames to spread quickly across nearly an entire block. The intense flames shot up several hundred feet into the air and also caused extensive damage to the adjacent 110 Freeway.

Investigators said Abdulwali was possibly using the name Timothy Roston as an alias. Details regarding a possible motive were not released, but officials said they believe he acted alone and had no real connection to the property.

Prosecutors said he has served time in an Arizona prison for auto theft and has a criminal record in California, which includes convictions for forgery and theft.

He is due back in court on June 11. If convicted, he faces a possible sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
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