The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles
Editor 

Klickitat arson caught on camera

 

Contributed by Leslie DeHart

ARSON ON VIDEO: This sequence of photos shows the start of a fire deliberately set at a residence in the town of Klickitat and caught on surveillance cameras. Pictured here, headlights of a fire truck pulling up, illuminating a group of men now trying to put the fire out. The property owner says they started the fire, then put it out so they could later say they stopped a fire at his home, as an act of intimidation.

A group of people set fire to a neighbor's building in Klickitat last Wednesday night, then came back early the next morning to cover the evidence. The activity was caught on the resident's surveillance cameras.

In between those occurrences, the arsonists returned while the fire was blazing to help put it out just before firefighters arrived. When the owner returned later the next morning, he says the group of men told him they had seen fire on his property and rushed over to help extinguish it.

The owner asserts the arson was the latest in a series of acts aimed at intimidating him.

"It was going around that I was a cop," says Leslie DeHart, owner of the property. "All the tweekers doing their illegal stuff around here felt threatened by me." ("Tweekers" is slang for hard-drug users, particularly meth.)

DeHart bought his house in September 2014, occupying it after it had sat empty for about 10 years. The sudden purchase and occupancy, DeHart says, startled and frightened many of his neighbors; and he says the house is right in the middle of a mini-community of heavy drug users. They responded to his presence initially with heavy verbal abuse, then ramped up. "Several robberies," he says. "Breaking into my basement, taking tools, chain saws, yard equipment, anything that they can get their hands on." They then escalated to shooting holes in his truck near the gas tank on New Year's Eve while it was parked on his property. DeHart says he has pictures of the shooting and reported all incidents to the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office (KCSO).

"The first time I called the cops for harassment they explained to me, 'Oh yeah, is this your first summer here? We're sorry you have to experience this. It's not uncommon for 30 or 40 of the tweekers (they call them tweekers, too) to sit down right in the middle of the road and just thieve and cause havoc.' It was startling to me knowing that the officer knew exactly what was going on-and that nothing was being done about it."

(Asked about the incident at DeHart's home, the sheriff's office says it is still investigating. DeHart adds he understands that police have to obtain evidence that can stand up in court and that they're dealing with criminals who know the law all too well.)

Last Tuesday morning DeHart packed up for an overnight medical visit to Portland. Houses being in close proximity, his departure was easily observed by neighbors. "They were all just staring at us, and I just felt in my gut that something was going to happen," he recalls.

The next morning when he returned, DeHart says one his neighbors came running up shouting, "We saved your house. We saved your house from burning down. Let's look at your video, and you'll see what we did."

So he did. But he saw a lot more. The neighbors knew he had video surveillance but apparently did not realize it would pick up as much as it did from 80 feet, the distance between the cameras and the fire scene.

DeHart brought the videos to the KCSO and to The Sentinel.

The video's revelations are clearer when images can be seen in motion, especially in the dark-of-night footage. Still images don't reflect the activity as well, though they still show sufficient detail.

In one image, out of almost total darkness a small flame begins to glow. As it does, it faintly illuminates a man who is seen dropping the flaming object onto a small outbuilding, then leaving to the right of camera. Soon after, the fire expands, filling the frame with flames.

Another shot shows two men running up to each other close to DeHart's house, then running quickly away. Subsequently the video shows a group of men gathering around the fire.

Shortly after, the men are seen bringing buckets and a hose and starting to fight the flames. Minutes later the scene is brightly illuminated by the headlights of a fire truck that pulls up. Firefighters are then seen helping put out the fire.

Contributed by Leslie DeHart

Someone lights an object and tosses it on the ground to start the fire. The person who dropped it, now scurrying away.

The cameras also picked up a scene in the full light of the next morning of a man in a light brown baseball cap, red shirt, and blue jeans carrying a shovel to the fire scene. He is seen arriving at a specific location at the edge of the now-extinguished fire-the same place where the fire is seen starting the night before-and shoveling at the ground.

DeHart is asked if he is comfortable with a story running showing such strong visual information when he says he's already heavily harassed. "I want an end to it," he asserts. "And if it takes making it public, in the paper, I'm willing to take a stand. I'm disabled. I've got this house for retirement to live out the rest of my years in peace, and I'm not going to stand for this. So if I have to die so nobody else has to go through this, I'm willing to do that."

 

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