Manager charged with arson in Late Nite Pie fire

April 13, 2012 4:20:01 PM PDT
It was a popular spot for the night crowd. But Late Nite Pie was torched back in February.

On Friday, authorities said the case was arson, and the man responsible is now under arrest. As it turns out, the main suspect is the restaurant's manager and someone we spoke with the night of the fire.

The smell of smoke is still strong at the burned-out building on Tuam that used to be the home of Late Nite Pie. Two months after a fire destroyed the once popular Midtown pizza shop, investigators are charging its manager, Raymond Luis Pecher, with second degree arson.

"They told me to turn the TV on. I see a 20 foot flame coming out of the restaurant," Pecher told Eyewitness News on the night of the fire. "We've busted our butts to try and get this place to come back to life the way that it was, and to see it like this is just heartbreaking."

Back on February 8, Pecher appeared on Eyewitness News, telling us he was shocked the newly renovated business mysteriously burned down one hour after he closed up for the night.

Cell phone video captured the ferocious flames as they tore through the roof. The flames were so intense that firefighters were forced out minutes before the roof collapsed.

But investigators say Pecher didn't realize cameras at Ronnie Jackson's Mercedes dealership across the street had a clear view of the restaurant as the fire broke out.

"This is Late Nite Pie. And this is the entrance to go in and out," said Jackson. "They took about eight hours, downloaded everything, and that's when they said that their story didn't add up, basically with what's on the camera."

Firefighters say the fire was intentionally set due to the fact that they found four separate areas of origin, burned remnants of a plastic gasoline can in the food prep area and detected ignitable liquid in submitted samples. All of the restaurant's doors were closed, with the exception of the front door which was wide open, firefighters say.

Court documents allege that Pecher, the day shift manager of the restaurant, was observed on surveillance video walking out of the restaurant about five minutes before smoke could be seen coming from the building. Investigators say Pecher was seen on the video hesitating at the front door, then driving off in a van.

Police say Pecher told them he arrived at the pizza place that night at around 3am to close the business and that he left at the same time as the cook and the dishwasher, locked the front door and left in a van. According to investigators, the cook and the dishwasher were seen on video leaving the building about 10 minutes before Pecher and that no one else entered or left the building besides Pecher after that.

Now Pecher, 45, is in jail on felony charges.

"Everything was caught on camera, so really it's not much of a defense when it's on camera, you know," said Jackson.

No one was injured in the fire. The building was a total loss, according to the Houston Fire Department.

The investigation into this arson case is ongoing. We've been told more arrests could be coming.

Pecher is due in court on April 16. No bond has been set in this case.

He has a prior conviction for robbery in 1986, according to court records.

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