UPDATED: Prosecutors charge Cottage Grove man with arson, theft in Acorn Mini Storage fireInvestigators tracked down the suspect in a Woodbury motel, where he was found sleeping and unresponsive, possessing a steak knife and cap gun.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
A Cottage Grove man is accused of stealing from motorhomes and vehicles parked at an outdoor storage site and then setting the motorhomes on fire.
Washington County prosecutors charged 46-year-old Gerald E. Holmes with arson, property damage and theft in connection with an April 6 blaze at Acorn Mini Storage in Cottage Grove. Four motorhomes and two camper trailers were destroyed in the early morning fire. Investigators later that day tracked down Holmes in a Woodbury motel, where he was found sleeping and unresponsive, with a steak knife and cap gun. Items reported stolen from the storage site were found with Holmes, and surveillance video puts him at the scene shortly before the fire, according to charges filed in Washington County District Court. A Cottage Grove police investigator said Holmes admitted in an interview that he admitted to entering the motorhomes and stealing tires but denied committing arson
Prosecutors on April 13 issued a warrant for Holmes’ arrest. He remained hospitalized as of last week. According to the criminal complaint filed against him:
Police were called to the storage business at 8625 West Point Douglas Road at about 5:30 a.m. April 6 for a reported fire. Firefighters found the motorhomes and camper trailers ablaze. The fire was extinguished, but the six vehicles were destroyed and surrounding property was damaged from the fire.
Investigators were told that six rims and tires were stolen from two vehicles near the fire.
Access to the storage site requires a code. Investigators reviewed access logs for the time leading up to the fire and found that one code was used eight times between 8:30 p.m. the night before the fire and 5:27 a.m., five minutes before the fire was reported. The code was assigned to a woman who they tracked to a Woodbury motel. Officers went to the motel and talked to a child of the woman, who said Holmes was her uncle and that he had used his mother’s vehicle the previous night. Police saw the truck in the motel parking lot; a gas can was found in the truck bed, along with a floor jack that matched a jack part found near the site of the fire and the vehicles that were missing rims.
Police found Holmes asleep and unresponsive in a bed in a motel room. He was holding a steak knife and a cap gun was found next to him. Empty pill bottles were found nearby. Police called for medical assistance, and Holmes was transported to a hospital.
Wheels matching those stolen from the storage site were found in Holmes’ motel room, along with flags, dolls and poker chips that had been located in the motorhomes that were destroyed in the fire, according to the complaint.
The complaint says police reviewed surveillance video footage that shows Holmes entering and leaving Acorn Mini Storage the night of the fire. The last time he is pictured leaving the area is at 5:27 a.m.
“There is a white glow in the background, which developed into the fire,” the complaint states.
Prosecutors charged Holmes with third-degree arson and first-degree property damage and theft, all felonies.
Cottage Grove police detective Tom Ueland said while talking to police at the hospital, Holmes admitted to stealing the tires and entering the motorhomes, but denied setting a fire. Ueland said that when Holmes was told he is seen on camera just before the fire was reported, “he said he might have dropped a cigarette by accident.”
Each of the four luxury motorhomes was estimated to cost around $80,000, Ueland said. In addition, two other luxury motorhomes parked near the vehicles that burned were deemed total losses by insurance companies because of heat damage, he said.
The owner of one of the motorhomes had just paid $88,000 for the vehicle about two weeks before the fire, Ueland said. Traveling in the motorhome was going to be a retirement pastime.