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Updated: Arrest Made in Topiary Park Building Fire

Brent Warren Brent Warren Updated: Arrest Made in Topiary Park Building FireFirefighters are still active at the scene. All photos by Brent Warren, taken on Tuesday afternoon, June 2.
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UPDATE (June 4): An arrest has been made of a suspect in the burning of the nearly-complete apartment building at 65 S. Washington Ave. Derrick Lee, whose address is listed as the streets of Columbus, was arrested on Tuesday and charge with aggravated arson. The Columbus Division of Fire did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but a spokesperson has told other outlets that the division’s investigators now believe that the crime was not related to the protests occurring Downtown last Saturday night. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June 12. 

A fire set early Sunday morning did significant damage to the Residences at Topiary Park, the downtown apartment complex that has been under construction for over a year and was scheduled to open later this summer.

As of Wednesday morning, firefighters and several fire trucks were still at the scene of the four-story building, which lost its roof and much of the top floor in the fire.

A spokesperson for Encova Insurance, the company that owns the land the building is going on and is spearheading the project, said that it is too early to comment on a timeline for repairs and that they are “still assessing the damage.”

The spokesperson did provide a statement, though, initially released on Sunday, from TJ Obrokta Jr., the President and CEO of Encova Insurance (formerly Motorists Insurance):

“We can rebuild these apartments, but George Floyd’s family has lost him forever. Our hearts and prayers remain in Minnesota. We support the quest for social justice, and we hope these demonstrations can be conducted in a more peaceful and civil way than exhibited last night.”

Encova Insurance is partnering with the Robert Weiler Company on the building, which is meant to be the first phase in a larger redevelopment of several large surface parking lots in the area.

Steve Martin, Battalion Chief for the Columbus Division of Fire, said that investigators have determined that the fire was intentionally set.

“We are still active on the scene,” he added, explaining that the fire has not reignited. “The fact is the building is too dangerous for us to go in, so we have never been fully able to extinguish it.  We have crews on the outside throwing water.”

Firefighters were first called to the building around 3 a.m. Sunday morning. Several other smaller fires in the area around the same time were quickly extinguished. Smoke from the building, which sits at the corner of Washington Avenue and Library Park, could be seen rising high into the sky on Sunday morning.

Protests against police violence in Columbus started on Thursday, May 28, and have continued daily since. Broken windows and some other limited property damage was sustained in the Short North and Downtown on the first three nights of the protests, but the gatherings have been largely peaceful since Sunday.

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