TAMPA — Two men are accused of throwing flaming bags down the garbage chute at their public housing complex for the elderly and are suspects in seven similar cases, police said Monday.
Jacinto Rodriguez Vazquez, 66, and Edwin Torres, 59, were captured on surveillance cameras lighting bags and then dropping them down the chute late Friday and early Saturday at the J.L. Young Apartments, 8220 N Florida Ave., police said.
The men, who live in apartments at the complex, each face a felony charge of first-degree arson of a dwelling.
They are being investigated in similar fires at the apartment complex between Sept. 21 and Saturday. The fires caused about $7,000 in damage, police said.
After several fires there were reported, investigators installed surveillance cameras. About 11:45 p.m. Friday, Tampa police responded to a report of an arson. The surveillance footage showed Vazquez lighting a bag and throwing it down a garbage chute, police said.
Three hours later, Torres was also caught on camera setting another fire, police said.
Many of the residents at the apartment complex are physically disabled and use motorized wheelchairs to get around. That could have created a deadly situation, said Florence Dickerson, 66, who uses a wheelchair.
"It is dangerous," she said. "I don't know why a person would do that."
The fire alarms had become so frequent that some residents didn't even leave their apartments, said Eric Mingledorff, a 61-year-old man in a wheelchair.
"They got them on video?" asked Mingledorff. "Well, I think they ought to be in jail."
Dickerson said residents had been surprised to learn the suspects lived among them. She said she originally thought the fire in the garbage chute was an accident. "My opinion was maybe some dodo bird forgot to put out his cigarette," she said.
Torres posted a bond for his $15,000 bail and was released Sunday from the Hillsborough County Jail. Vazquez was still being held on $15,000 bail Monday night, jail records show.
Times staff writer Jodie Tillman contributed to this report.