Man charged with arson in apartment fire

Officials remain mum about this blaze in the Centennial neighborhood. But a relative of the victims, and court records, reveal odd circumstances in this tragic situation …

Firefighters work to put out a fire, started in the doorway of a second-floor unit, at an outer East Portland apartment complex. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

By David F. Ashton

Based on what a relative of a Centennial neighborhood family has told reporters, a late-night fight turned into what may be an arson and reckless endangerment case against a suspect.

The adult members of a family residing in Andersen Villa, a two-row apartment complex at 15820 SE Division Street, were burned in a fire in their unit about 4:20 a.m. on September 3.

The family’s relative told media that the couple visited a local bar – which court documents later revealed to be the Fortune Star Lounge, a half-block east of their apartment – while a babysitter took care of their son and daughter.

When the lounge closed, the couple invited another man and woman back to their nearby apartment.

While firefighters extinguish the fire in the doorway, other crew members hose down the eaves of the building with water. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

When the residents decided to “call it a night”, their rowdy guests didn’t want to leave the after-hours party, leading to a “physical altercation”, the relative said – and one man yelling, “I’m going to kill you”.

“I heard all kinds of noise – screaming, and such – coming from their apartment, about 3:00 a.m. that morning,” a neighbor told East Portland News later that day. “Then, there was smoke and flames.”

Again, according to the relative, one of men came back to the apartment, kicked the door in, and began spraying and pouring gasoline on the couple and trying to set them on fire.

With her four-year-old boy in her arms, the female resident started down the stairs, while the man carried their 6-year-old girl out through the flames.

On the second floor landing, firefighters make sure the flames have been extinguished in the area. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

“Firefighters found flames coming from the second floor, and fire on the roof,” said Portland Fire & Rescue Public Information Officer Lt Rich Tyler. “Fire crews quickly attacked the fire and verified that all occupants were out of the structure,” he said.

One patient was treated for minor burns on scene, Tyler confirmed, and another was transported with more severe burns to his body.

Officials accuse this man, 28-year-old Joshua Aaron Bigsby, of arson, among other charges. MCDC booking photo

In the early morning hours of September 7, Arson Investigators from Portland Fire & Rescue and the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) arrested 28-year-old Joshua Aaron Bigsby in connection with what was characterized as an “arson fire” at the apartment building, according to PPB Public Information Officer Sgt. Pete Simpson.

Bigsby was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center (MCDC) at 12:52 a.m. on six counts of Arson in the First Degree (a Class A Felony) , six counts of Reckless Endangerment, six counts of Criminal Mischief in the First Degree, and Assault in the Second Degree.

After his arraignment the following day, Bigsby was transported to Multnomah County Inverness Jail where he remains in lieu of a combined bail of $1.93 million.

Court documents support and PF&R Investigator Rick McGraw confirms that Bigsby is accused of dousing a man, identified as Michael Alston Jr., with gasoline, and setting him ablaze.

Also charged in the alleged arson is 24-year-old Kayla Elizabeth Elmer. MCDC booking photo

And, on September 8, at at 6:33 p.m., investigators booked 24-year-old Kayla Elizabeth Elmer into MCDC, also on six counts of Arson in the First Degree.

In court the following afternoon, the judge released five of the six counts against Elmer, lowering her $1.5 million bail to $250,000. However, she remains in MCDC in lieu of that bail, awaiting a preliminary hearing. Elmer’s actual participation in the alleged arson remains unclear.

Anyone with information about this incident is asked to contact Investigator Rick McGraw at 503-823-3797, rick.mcgraw@portlandoregon.gov.

Relatives help this family, affected by the fire: Mike and Krystal, and their children (cropped to protect their identity). Undated family-provided photo

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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