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Crime & Courts

Anchorage police overseeing arson investigation after fire destroys several cars at Midtown dealership

A fire destroyed at least four cars at the Lithia Kia of Anchorage early Thursday morning. Anchorage police and the fire department are conducting an arson investigation. (Eric Connick photo)

Anchorage police and the fire department are conducting a joint arson investigation into a fire at a Midtown car dealership that ignited early Thursday morning and damaged five vehicles, police said Friday.

Officers received several calls beginning at 2:48 a.m. Thursday about a fire at Lithia Kia of Anchorage on the Old Seward Highway, according to Anchorage police spokeswoman Kendra Doshier. When police arrived, vehicles in the dealership lot were actively burning, she wrote in an emailed statement. The Anchorage Fire Department soon extinguished the flames, she wrote.

The “initial indications” of the investigation show that at least five vehicles have differing levels of fire damage, Doshier wrote. She said that police do not currently have any suspect information or other details to release.

The fire destroyed at least four of the cars and may have totaled the fifth, causing about $80,000 to $100,000 in losses including cleanup and removal, according to the dealership’s general manager, Eric Connick.

Connick said in an interview Friday that he was alerted to the fire when an officer knocked on the door of his home at about 3 a.m. The fire was in the back of the lot, where Connick said many other incidents such as theft have taken place recently.

Connick watched the dealership’s security camera footage, which he said showed two men entering the lot before the fire started.

“From what I can tell, it was a couple of guys looking to commit a crime,” he said.

Connick said he did not want to make assumptions before police finish the investigation, but “a few things” that they found inside the burning cars and on the footage indicate that the fire was set intentionally.

“It looks to me like they committed a crime and potentially lit a car on fire,” he said.

From Connick’s experience, over the past seven years in Midtown, “the crime has gone up. I mean, it’s over tripled or quadrupled in the last two years here at my facility,” he said.

The dealership has a security system that includes motion detectors, Connick said.

“I’ve tried everything — security guards, cameras, a mix of both,” he said. “We’re going to upgrade our system another notch to have 24-hour surveillance here now.”

In 2019, Anchorage police had 11 calls for service related to alarms at Lithia Kia of Anchorage, according to Doshier. So far this year, police have responded to another 11 calls for service at the dealership, she said.

Most of the time, whoever triggers the alarm is gone when Anchorage Police Department officers arrive, Connick said. Cars have been stolen previously, he said.

Connick gave testimony to the Anchorage Assembly last week expressing his desire for a more transparent process and for more public involvement on the city’s plan to purchase four properties for homeless and treatment services.

One of the properties is the former Alaska Club building on Tudor Road, near the car dealership. The city’s proposal to purchase the buildings has led to forceful opposition from neighborhood residents who say they fear increased crime and a negative impact on property values and quality of life.

Connick said he doesn’t believe the fire was connected to that testimony. He’s waiting for the results of the investigation.

The dealership has received an “outpouring” of community support since the fire, he said.

“It’s been touching, to say the least,” Connick said.

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