Galveston man 'primary target' of 27 arson investigations in 20 years, court records show

Mycah Hatfield Image
Saturday, June 10, 2023
Galveston man considered 'target' in 27 arson investigations: Records
A man accused of causing a fire in Galveston is the primary suspect in more than 27 other active arson investigations, court records say.

GALVESTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A man accused of causing a fire in Galveston is the "primary suspect" in more than 27 other active arson investigations, court records say.

Jason Smith, 53, is being held on a $100,000 bond in jail for one count of arson.

At about 4:30 a.m. on May 30, officials responded to a house fire in the 2300 block of 32nd Street.

An investigator for the Galveston Fire Marshal's Office also went to the home and quickly became suspicious that the fire was intentionally set, court records say.

Nearby surveillance video captured a man hauling a black trash bag full of cans pulling into the home on a bicycle at 4:27 a.m. The probable cause affidavit said that the man, later identified as Smith, held a lighter up to a palm tree next to the home for 15 seconds, then pedaled away.

RELATED: Alleged serial arsonist arrested, suspected of starting dozens of fires

Altogether, timestamps on the camera show the suspect was outside the home for less than 30 seconds.

From the video, records say the investigator identified the man as Smith.

He went to Smith's home about a mile from the scene and found him outside dressed in only a shirt and underwear.

According to records, the 53-year-old admitted to knowing that the investigator worked for the fire marshal's office but said he did not understand why he was there.

He told the investigator that he had been out collecting cans that morning in the area of 32nd or 33rd streets and pointed to a collection of black trash bags filled with cans.

The investigator noted that the bags looked like the ones in the surveillance video, and he also spotted a similar bike, according to court documents.

When the investigator brought up the surveillance video, the affidavit said Smith cut him off and said, "Oh (expletive)."

He was subsequently arrested on June 2.

Smith is considered the "target" of more than 27 active arson investigations in Galveston that are within the statute of limitation, according to the investigator.

RELATED: La Marque Fire Marshal's office investigating 2 suspected arson-related cases 1 block apart

The statute of limitation for arson in Texas is 10 years. He noted that he had been sought in connection to more than 20 years' worth of arsons.

"Mr. Smith's modus operandi and behavior patterns are that he always operates between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., mostly between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m." the investigator wrote. "He uses palm trees as his combustible fuel load because they are exposed to elements year-round, and the exterior of the trees dries and is easily ignitable with a small ignition source such as a disposable lighter. Mr. Smith also only operates between 14th and 38th Streets but focuses primarily on 26th to 32nd Street."

Smith has a list of prior charges but has not previously been charged with arson.

The Galveston Fire Marshals Office declined an interview with ABC13 but said they would answer written questions.

We emailed a list of questions, including how this was his first arson charge, if more charges are expected, and what allowed them to arrest Smith in this case versus others he is suspected of.

As of Friday evening, there has not been a response.

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