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Police say boredom sparked teens' St. Petersburg arson spree

ST. PETERSBURG — Police say the five teens are good students. In fact, two are A-plus students trying to earn scholarships for college, police said.

Now those bright futures are endangered, police say, because the teens made two mistakes.

First, police say they went on a wild arson spree early Sunday morning. The teens are accused of using homemade Molotov cocktails — IBC Root Beer and Orange Crush soda bottles filled with gasoline — to set fire to 14 vehicles and one house.

No one was injured, but firefighters said it was their busiest night since the 1996 disturbances gripped the city.

The teens' second mistake occurred when one boy left his wallet at the scene of a fire, the lead police needed to track down and arrest all five youths.

Police say the teens admitted this wasn't their first crime spree. Authorities say they expect to link the teens to more vandalism in the city and county.

So why did they do it?

Boredom, police say.

"We really we are at a loss to explain why they would engage in that kind of behavior," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt. "It's not some gang initiation. These are just good students who had too much time on their hands.

"I'm not really sure how to explain it."

• • •

The first fire was reported at 4:26 a.m. The teens then spent the next hour and 56 minutes setting 14 more fires, police said. The last fire was at 6:22 a.m.

Convertibles seemed to be a frequent target, police say, but the teens also lit up a motorcycle.

By the time of the third fire early Sunday morning, St. Petersburg firefighters knew they had a pattern on their hands.

To contend with the blazes, fire officials had to dispatch eight of the department's 13 fire engines. Four of the department's five arson investigators were roused from bed.

"The firefighters realized right away what was happening," said Fire Rescue Lt. Joel Granata. "But they were coming so quickly we were struggling to keep up."

There was so much damage that authorities still aren't done tallying just how much it all cost.

• • •

While firefighters were at work, it didn't take long for police to pick up the teens' trail.

The first teen arrested Sunday was Mathew Pineda Kiernan 16, of St. Petersburg, who police said left behind his wallet. He cooperated and led officers to the rest of the group, police said.

Francis Huy Du, 16, of St. Petersburg, was the next to be arrested Sunday.

Then on Monday, three more teens were arrested: Alain Nguyenj, 18, of Tampa; Tan Minh Tran, 16; and Quoc Tan Lam, 17.

The last two turned themselves in. Their home towns were not released by police.

The four youngest were taken to juvenile detention on four counts of felony arson.

Nguyenj was the only one arrested as an adult on two counts of first-degree arson, one count of second-degree arson and possession of a destructive device. He was being held in the Pinellas County Jail in lieu of $240,000 bond Monday night.

None of the teens' families could be reached for comment.

• • •

This may only be the start of the teens' troubles.

Police say they recovered extra Molotov cocktails from one teen's home, as well as bats embedded with broken glass. Some of the fire-bombed vehicles also had their windows smashed.

St. Petersburg police said they also suspect the teens in a Jan. 3 spree in which the windows of 19 parked vehicles were smashed.

Pinellas sheriff's officials said they also expect to link the teens to incidents of criminal mischief in the county jurisdiction.

None of the teens has a prior criminal record, police said, and all five did more than just confess.

They took police on a tour of the arson spree, police said, and even implicated themselves in three earlier house fires. That makes it 18 incidents of arson all together, police said.

Said Proffitt: "It was like show-and-tell."

Jamal Thalji can be reached at or (727) 893-8472.

The suspects

Du, Kiernan, Tran and Quoc Tan Lam, 17, not pictured, are charged as juveniles on four counts of felony arson. Nguyenj is charged as an adult on two counts of first-degree arson, one count of second-degree arson and possession of a destructive device.

Police say boredom sparked teens' St. Petersburg arson spree 02/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 6, 2009 7:34am]
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