Monday, January 22, 2018
Public safety

Police identify victims from mysterious fire in St. Petersburg; missing truck found in Tampa

ST. PETERSBURG — It wasn't unusual for neighbors to see workers at the brown house.

The owner took pride in the 1930 home at 2635 Fourth Ave. N, purchased two years ago. Men came to work on the lawn. There was a kitchen remodel a few weeks ago, neighbors said.

Workers Bruce Johnson, 51, and Arthur Regula, 36, were at the home, in the Historic Kenwood neighborhood, when a fire broke out on Sunday afternoon.

Firefighters found their bodies inside, and authorities quickly determined the men died from "homicidal violence." They called the identifications "tentative," because the fire caused extensive damage to the bodies. The Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office is still investigating.

Authorities have not named any suspects, but on Monday afternoon announced they may have found a clue.

Regula's black Ford pickup was discovered at about noon Monday behind a CVS Pharmacy at Columbus Drive and Macdill Avenue in Tampa. It too was torched.

"To the best of my knowledge, it was abandoned," St. Petersburg Police spokesman Mike Puetz said. "Who drove off in it is obviously something we'd like to know."

Family members of Johnson and Regula couldn't be reached for comment Monday. The homeowner, listed in public records as Mitchell T. Harrison, also couldn't be reached. Authorities said he was not home at the time of the fire. He arrived Sunday afternoon to see his house burning.

Police said Johnson was a friend of the owner and had been staying at the home. Regula, who lived in Hudson, was a tile tradesman, police said.

Meanwhile, residents in the trendy neighborhood known for its porch parties wondered what happened.

"It's so shocking," said Laura Bechtel, who lives three doors down. "I'm just bothered that there's somebody out there, not in custody."

Firefighters got the first call at 1:21 p.m. Sunday, after some children playing in a back yard — including Bechtel's 8-year-old daughter — spotted smoke.

Robert Bechtel said his teenage daughter said she smelled lighter fluid.

Investigators have not said how the two men were killed or what started the blaze.

But Lt. Joel Granata, spokesman for St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue, said it was an unusual fire scene.

"We felt that it had a lot of oddities," Granata said. "When you have two victims that were apparently able-bodied and it was the middle of the day ... they should have been able to get out. Why weren't they able to get out?"

As the afternoon wore on, investigators brought in an arson dog to sniff for accelerants, Granata said.

"I can't tell you whether one was found at this point," he said.

Anyone with information about the incident was asked to call the St. Petersburg Police Department at (727) 893-7780.

Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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