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Arsonist hits EU High

Fire destroys 4 of 7 transport vans

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Arsonist hits EU High

Manteca City firefighter Michael Hohn and another firefighter work to extinguish the fire that engulfed one of the Ford transport vans at East Union High School just after midnight Thursday.


POSTED October 26, 2012 1:21 a.m.

Manteca Police are looking for the person or persons responsible in the fiery destruction of four of the East Union High School’s seven transport vans at midnight Friday. The incident is being investigated as an arson crime.

Police are also asking the public’s help in seeking the arrest of the guilty parties by sending tips to South County CrimeStoppers at 823-INFO and they could be eligible for cash rewards up to $1,000. Callers don’t have to reveal themselves and remain anonymous.

Investigation into the post-midnight torching of the four transport vehicles kept in the fenced in area of the Agriculture and portable Ag classroom unit indicated that the suspects cut the chain-link fence on the west side of the classroom to set the vehicles on fire.

“We assume that (the vehicles) were set on fire on purpose. They were there to vandalize, not to steal gas,” said East Union Principal John Alba who was notified soon after the fire started.

Vandalism where the perpetrators simply stole gas from the school vehicles has “happened a lot” before, “as soon as gas goes up over four dollars (a gallon),” Alba said.

Last school year, thieves broke into the school vans and stole the gas from the vehicles, he said. Other campuses have been similarly vandalized, Alba noted. Just about two months ago, Sierra High’s vans have also broken into by thieves to steal the gas.

“But whoever did this were here to do damage – and they did,” Alba said of Thursday morning’s arson fire.

He added that because of current school district budget constraints, there’s a possibility East Union may never be able to have all four vehicles replaced since the insurance deductible for the cars is $100,000 which means they can’t expect to get anything from the insurance coverage.

“I could be wrong, but I’m almost positive,” he said of the deductible figure.

“I don’t know what the value of the vans would be today,” but brand new, replacement for all four could cost $100,000 or $25,000 for each vehicle, Alba added.

After speaking to Superintendent Jason Messer about the arson fire that destroyed the vans first thing Thursday morning, Alba said he received assurances that the superintendent is “working diligently to find money to replace” the transport vans.

The principal said the school uses the 2005 transport vans – three were Ford and one was a Dodge – for different things: “for club field trips, number one. Ag uses them every weekend for trips to conferences and training; and for sports, because that helps us to reduce cost.”

Thursday, for example, the school needed two of the vehicles a sports event at Kimball High in Tracy, Alba said.

“We used them all for our athletes. We have seven vans and they damaged four of them,” he said.

Investigation at the scene indicated that the fires were started in the gas tanks of the vehicles.

Loud booms shattered the midnight silence

Police received several telephone calls from residents around midnight who reported hearing loud booms coming from the area around East Union. An officer at the scene said the booming sounds were the results “possibly of tires popping or glass breaking.”

The noise that shattered the midnight silence was heard as far south as Topaz Court in Manteca where residents Robert Walker and D.J. Baldwin first heard the sound then saw the “black smoke” from the north.

“Then we saw the sky being lit up orange. We thought it was the school,” said the two friends who jogged along North Union Road toward the school.

Firefighters from four Manteca City Fire engines fought the vehicle fires using liquid foam. One fire engine from the Ripon Fire District and another from the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District also responded to the arson fire. The Manteca Ambulance District was also there; however, it left as soon as it was determined no injuries were involved.

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