Officials: Calif. Arson Suspect May Be Linked Japan Fires

August 5, 2011

Fire investigators tried to determine Wednesday whether a man arrested for investigation of a serial arson spree in the San Fernando Valley served time for torching bars and restaurants in Japan a decade ago while he was in the Marines.

“We believe that’s him” but investigators will check with the Navy to confirm it, senior arson investigator David Liske said.

Kurt K. Billie, 34, was arrested Tuesday near the scene of a motorhome fire in North Hollywood. It was the latest of some 20 vehicle fires in the same area that have caused more than $1 million in damage since July 17.

Billie remained jailed on $250,000 bail. It was not immediately clear if he had obtained an attorney.

In 2001, a Marine lance corporal named Kurt K. Billie was sentenced to five years in prison for setting fire to seven restaurants and bars in Okinawa. In the ruling, chief judge Soichi Hayashida said Billie’s criminal responsibility was serious because he was drunk and made the attacks to escape from reality.

“The motive was selfish and unreasonable. He should bear a serious criminal responsibility,” Hayashida said.

Japanese officials had protested the U.S. military’s initial refusal to hand Billie over to police. He was not surrendered by the military until prosecutors filed charges.

Investigators also were trying to determine whether Billie had a criminal history in the United States. He apparently spent some time in New Mexico and Texas and may have links to Henderson, Nev., as well, Liske said.

It was unclear how long he had been in the North Hollywood area, but it may have only been a couple of months, Liske said.

Investigators also were looking into whether all those fires were set by the same person.

“There’s nothing specifically that points to another person,” Liske said.

Billie has not cooperated with investigators who tried to talk to him after his arrest.

Investigators anticipated submitting a report to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office on Thursday seeking criminal charges.

So far, the report would only involve an attempt to set fire to a big-rig cab in North Hollywood on Tuesday and the motorhome fire that occurred around the same time, which also scorched a tree and a nearby home.

More allegations could be submitted later, with prosecutors deciding whether to charge Billie with any of the other fires.

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