Witness recounts ‘crazy’ moments in Edmonton arson spree

Before being tackled to the ground in an Edmonton Starbucks, a man who allegedly lit 13 vehicles on fire moments before had one request for the baristas: a grande macchiato.

“It was kind of in a sarcastic tone,” said Maxwell Putnam, a lawyer who was enjoying a latte inside the coffee shop on Whyte Avenue and Calgary Trail.

“Crazy, hey?”

It was around 8:40 p.m. Friday. Putnam was sitting near the front window as a man beside him showed off the new Batman comic book he’d just bought.

They looked out the window and saw an SUV, flames shooting from the hood, driving down Whyte Avenue.

Moments later, a man dressed in black burst through the door of the café.

He was being chased by three people, Putnam said — a moustached man in a Hawaiian shirt, a man carrying what appeared to be a 2×4 piece of wood, and another man recording the whole thing with a cellphone.

I almost thought it was staged, like there was some kind of a prank going on.– Maxwell Putnam, witness

“It was kind of surreal,” Putnam said. “I almost thought it was staged, like there was some kind of a prank going on. But then it became clear that there was a lot of anger towards this guy.”

The suspect burst through the door, barked his coffee order and seconds later, was tackled by the man wearing the Hawaiian shirt, Putnam said. The patrons inside watched as one of the baristas called police.

In a video recording of the incident, a woman near the window sips her coffee, slowly stands up and walks away as the suspect writhes on the ground behind her.

Police showed up within a couple of minutes, Putnam said, and the suspect was taken into a police vehicle out front.

Video circulating online shows a man walking near the intersection of Calgary Trail and Whyte Avenue, carrying a jerry can and dousing vehicles with gasoline before lighting them on fire.

Many people emerged from nearby bars and restaurants to see what was going on. 

One of them was Next Act Pub manager CJ Rowein. He was taking payments inside the restaurants when a server ran in saying she needed to call police. He ran outside, then went back in to get the fire extinguisher.

Four cars on the east side of the street were on fire, he said. A man was yelling about homosexuality and xenophobia and lighting more cars on fire, he added.

He got to work extinguishing some more vehicles while a staff member of another restaurant came out with another extinguisher.

“My initial response was just to put the fires out,” Rowein said. “It definitely was an extreme instance and it was … interesting.”

Rowein said he’d like to know why the man acted out in the way he did.

Thirteen vehicles were damaged but no one was injured, Edmonton Police Service Spokesperson Carolin Maran said in an email.

The suspect has not been identified, but is in custody.

Police continue to investigate.

This video posted by user spincrisis on Reddit shows the arrest of suspect who allegedly damaged 13 vehicles on Whyte Avenue Friday night. 3:34
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