Dustin Jay Bowman was arrested by fire investigators on suspicion of causing a Feb. 9 fire to an apartment complex still under construction at 540 E. 500 South. The blaze destroyed the building and caused about $6 million in damage. Flames from the fire could be seen throughout the Salt Lake Valley.
The U.S. Attorney's Office charged Bowman with one felony count of arson damaging a building used in interstate commerce.
During multiple interviews with investigators, Bowman allegedly admitted his role in the blaze but changed the story on how the fire started several times.
Charging documents state that investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms obtained surveillance footage from surrounding businesses showing a man walk into the construction site and leave -- just minutes before the building caught fire. Investigators interviewed the electrical foreman for the construction project, who said the man in the footage resembled Bowman, one of his electricians. Bowman, who viewed the footage in front of the foreman and an investigator as well, denied it was him.
Later that day, Bowman allegedly sent a text message to the investigator asking to meet with him without the foreman present. The two met the next day, and Bowman allegedly admitted that he was the man in the surveillance footage. Charging documents state that Bowman admitted to entering the site to smoke some spice in a large shipping container, but he denied ever entering the building.
During a later interview, Bowman allegedly changed his story a second time. Court documents state that Bowman admitted to entering the building to get some spice cigarettes. He then got a pile of insulated alarm wire and used a cigarette lighter and some cardboard to set the pile on fire. Bowman allegedly said he intended to burn off the insulation so he could sell the copper wire for scrap. When the fire got out of control, Bowman panicked and left, according to charging documents.
Bowman was arrested on state arson charges on Feb. 14, but the evidence at the scene was still inconsistent with Bowman's statements. In a jailhouse interview with investigators on Feb. 15, Bowman allegedly changed his story again. He said he went into the apartment building to smoke some spice and then crumpled up some cardboard and threw it into a bathtub that was still wrapped in cardboard. The bathtub was leaning against a wood wall and quickly spread.
Bowman allegedly said he only intended to start a small fire because the fire department had been at the site to examine the site the day before. When investigators questioned him about his motive, Bowman said: "Maybe I wanted to see the fire department," according to court documents.
Since the materials destroyed in the blaze included items that had been manufactured in other states and had traveled into Utah, Bowman was hit with federal charges. Prosecutors claim that interstate commerce also was affected when embers from the fire damaged the roof of a nearby Smith's store. A nearby dental office also sustained water and smoke damage, court documents state.
An initial appearance has been set for Thursday morning before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead.