Miami police want to know the identity of the man seen on surveillance video as he watched more than three dozen golf carts burn at Melreese Country Clublate Tuesday night.
Calling him a “person of interest,” police believe he may be involved in the fire at the only city-owned golf course in Miami. Police and fire investigators are withholding the video, they say, because it’s part of an active investigation.
The Melreese property near Miami International Airport has been in the news recently as residents and city leaders tangle over whether the golf course should be demolished in order to build a soccer stadium and a large commercial center. The site would be home to a Major League Soccer franchise owned by retired soccer superstar David Beckham and his partners.
“We want to make sure that before it [the video is] released, it’s thoroughly reviewed by investigators, including the state Fire Marshall’s office, to make sure that we’re not releasing anything that might impede the investigation,” said Miami Fire Capt. Ignatius Carroll.
Carroll even refused to give a description of the footage Wednesday, saying authorities are trying to determine whether there is a connection between Tuesday night’s blaze and another recent incident at adjacent Grapeland Water Park. WPLG Channel 10 reported that the video shows a man leaning against a tree and holding towels while watching the fire burn. Carrol refused to speculate what motivated someone to start the fire. No one was injured in the fire.
In June, a city-owned pickup truck was set on fire near the golf course late at night. Carroll said investigators have not determined what caused that fire.
The extent of the damage from the Tuesday night fire became clear after sunrise Wednesday. Only metal frames of the carts — each one likely had a few gallons of fuel — remained surrounded by melted rubber and plastic. The canopy above the carts was gone, only blackened shreds of it left dangling in the corners.
Near the front of the line of parked carts, a heap of scorched towels lay among the mess, raising questions of whether the towels were used to start the blaze. Nearby street signs were charred beyond recognition, and one of the clubhouse’s exterior glass windows shattered, exposing an interior glass pane.
Each of the golf carts cost $6,000 to $7,000, a manager said.
The soccer ownership group, led by local businessman Jorge Mas, wants to redevelop Melreese’s 131 acres into retail, hotel, office and stadium complex, along with a 58-acre public park and 23 acres of public soccer fields. Following a controversial City Commission vote to hold a referendum last week, Miami voters will in November decide if the city should waive its competitive bidding laws and negotiate a lease with the Beckham group to build the complex.