Tucson church arson suspect caught

Posted: Updated:

Another Tucson church became the target of an arsonist Tuesday. But quick work by church staff members prevented the fire from causing major damage. And police think they have their man.

Charred wood marks the entrance to the Coronado Baptist Church.

"I think it's a shame that we've come to a place in our country that things like this happen," says Pastor Vic Crews.

But it's not so much disappointment over what happened that comes to the mind of pastor Vic crews, but rather, relief at what didn't happen, "It was very good. Very fast thinking on everybody's part."

Tucson police say about 10:30 Tuesday morning somebody used an accelerant to set fire to the church's front door.

That's when maintenance man and former new Mexico firefighter George Lutz stepped in, "I immediately ran to the front of the church, grabbed the fire extinguisher. I ran back, pulled the pin out, and extinguished the flames."

Another employee pulled a water jug off the cooler to help Lutz douse the flames.

In all, the fire damage was limited to the door and small portions of the carpet, "The lord so ordained it that we were all here, we were all here at the right place at the right time," says Lutz.

Church staff members weren't the only people at the right place at the right time.

"An officer actually on site at the fire, driving through the area saw the smoke. Came into the area, was actually flagged down by a citizen who saw the suspect," explains Sgt. Diana Lopez of the Police Department.

Moments later, police brought a 30-year-old man into custody.

"There are some similarities to the other fires. It's unknown if they're all related at this time until the investigation, of course, concludes and they're done speaking to the suspect," says Officer Lopez.

For now, church employees breath a sigh of relief and try to resume business as usual, "Somebody could've gotten hurt for sure. So we've been very fortunate. We would say god smiled on us," says Pastor Crews.

Church employees estimate the fire caused about a $1,000 in damage.

In the meantime, Tucson police say 30-year-old Gabriel Villaescusa has been charged with felony counts of arson, criminal damage, and endangerment.

At this time, he's only been charged with Tuesday's fire.

Four other churches have been hit in the past month or so, all of them on the northwest side, all in the county.

Tucson police are working with the Pima County Sheriff's department to determine whether today's fire is connected with these.