The blaze that reduced dozens of golf carts to a charred mess this week at International Links Melreese Country Club was likely the work of a suspected arsonist who police say had no interest in whether the tract is developed into a mega commercial center and soccer hub.
After a furious two-day search for the fire-starter, Miami police late Wednesday night arrested a 20-year-old named Carlos Alberto Crespo and charged him with single counts of arson and burglary of an unoccupied structure. Police said they were led to Crespo through a tip and surveillance video that captured him starting the fire.
With the coveted 73-acre site just southeast of Miami International Airport at the center of a political battle, there was plenty of unfounded speculation about the blaze. Several South Florida sports talk shows did rifts suggesting both soccer fans and foes could be possible culprits — pointing to the on-going debate over international soccer star David Beckham’s plan to turn the property into large commercial center and stadium site for a Major League Soccer franchise.
After Crespo’s arrest, though, police put any soccer connection to rest, saying he’s suspected in two other fires at or near the golf course in the past year.
“He’s a suspect in other arson cases in the area,” said Deputy Miami Police Chief Ron Papier. “We do not believe his motive was political.”
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, an ardent backer of the development and who pushed for the November public referendum in which the public will decide on the site’s future, said it was the timing that caused the uproar.
“It just happened to become controversial because of the timing,” the mayor said.
Police said a tip led to Crespo’s capture and surveillance video that recorded his every move before and after the fire was set, sealed his fate.
The fire at the city’s only municipal golf course was set late Tuesday night. Surveillance video from the property shows a man in white shorts and a tank top who is believed to be Crespo from the moment he grabs a box, sets it down between golf carts and sets it on fire. He’s then seen backing off, taking quick glance at the flames and darting from sight.
The arresting officer wrote in the police report that Crespo “ran a safe distance and stood there to watch the entire fleet burn.” The damage estimate at $500,000.