Arson suspect arrested in fatal apartment fire


LOS ANGELES -- A teenager has been arrested in the downtown apartment house fire that killed 24 people last September -- 11 of them reportedly the suspect's relatives -- and was ordered returned to Los Angeles to face charges, officials say.

Los Angeles Police Cmdr. William Booth said Humberto Diaz de la Torre, 19, was arrested Wednesday in Laredo, Texas.


But Mexican Judicial Police spokesman Rodolfo Espinoza, of the northern city of Zacatecas, said his office arrested Diaz de la Torre Dec. 17 on a request from a man identifying himself as Los Angeles Police Sgt. Arturo J. Madrid.

He said that Madrid 'showed us some papers,' but that there had been no extradition request from the United States.

Booth said Diaz de la Torre was en route to Los Angeles Wednesday night and would be booked for murder upon his arrival. The police commander refused to discuss details of Diaz de la Torre's arrest before a news conference set for today.

Spokesmen for the American Embassy in Mexico City and the consular office in Guadalajara said they had no knowledge of any U.S. request for Diaz de la Torre's extradition.


They said it was unclear if the arrest procedure was made in conformance with Mexican law.

Espinoza said that Diaz de la Torre was taken to western city of Guadalajara Monday and put on a plane bound for El Paso, Texas, apparently accompanied by Madrid.

Interim Fire Chief Allen Evansen announced two weeks after the Sept. 4 fire at the four-story Dorothy Mae Apartment-Hotel -- the second worst blaze in city history -- that it was started with an 'accellerant.'

A Mexican news report said Diaz de la Torre had told Zacatecas police that he used gasoline to start the fire. It said he confessed that he had intended to kill his uncle, Mateo de la Torre, who managed the hotel, and that he did not realize other people would die in the blaze.

Eighteen people died as they tried to flee the smoke and flames of the Sunset Boulevard building where nearly 200 people, mostly Latinos, lived, 11 of them reportedly Diaz de la Torre's relatives. Six others died later of burns and other injuries.

All the victims -- including 11 children -- were members of four families, the De La Torres among them. Most of the residents of the apartment came from the same small Mexican village, El Salitre.


Although arson was initially ruled out, Evansen said subsequent laboratory analysis of debris found at the scene determined the blaze had been set deliberately. He refused to disclose the type of accellerant use, saying it was pertinent to the investigation.

In 1973, the Stratford Hotel fire -- also caused by an arsonist - killed 25 people.

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