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Galleria to start phased reopenings this week

Suspected arson delays arraignment
By: Lien Hoang, The Press Tribune
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Parts of the Westfield Galleria, including Nordstrom, could reopen within a week, a mall official said Monday. During a press conference, the mall’s senior manager, Gavin Farnam, said Westfield would take a “phased approach” to the reopenings, after Thursday arson fires destroyed sections of the roof and evacuated all shoppers and workers. Macy’s, the anchor store closest to the site of the blaze, also said it hopes to open back up before Black Friday. “That is a moving target because of all the parties involved,” Macy’s spokeswoman Laura Gardner Smith said by phone. Several agencies spoke Monday in a joint conference at the Galleria. Some “evidentiary” items have been recovered from the rubble, according to Jeffrey Vind, the assistant special agent in charge for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He would not elaborate on those items. But a suspicious backpack discarded by suspected arsonist Alexander Corney Piggee is likely still under the collapsed roof. Vind said no bomb has been recovered, and ATF is still treating the scene as potentially explosive. The bureau has not reached the epicenter where Piggee allegedly barricaded himself inside a GameStop and set off multiple fires. Instead, officials said, it is digging methodically from the edges and working its way inward. “We’re not just going to hop in where we think,” Vind said. Officials would not comment on the flames’ cause. But two hours before the conference Monday, the Placer County District Attorney charged Piggee with five felony counts, plus one allegation of arson with an accelerant. The charges include burglary, two counts of criminal threats, aggravated arson and arson to a structure. At the Placer County jail courtroom in Auburn, Piggee said he wanted to plead not guilty. But after his mother, Mary Carter, interjected that she would be hiring Sacramento attorney Johnny Griffin, Judge Larry Gaddis advised Piggee to hold off. Gaddis pushed the rest of the arraignment to Thursday at 1 p.m., when Piggee will enter an official plea. “I trust my family so I’ll wait,” Piggee told the judge. The 23-year-old reportedly took over the GameStop Thursday morning, told employees he had a gun, and set fire to the store. The inferno gutted 20 stores, minorly damaging many others, in a mall of roughly 240 stores, officials said. They described the interior as being filled with standing water from the emergency sprinklers, washed-away carpet, scorched ceilings and beams and destroyed merchandise. Authorities said they are setting out dehumidifiers to air out the mall and restoring the ventilation and sprinkler systems. They are also investigating reports that a Roseville Police officer ordered the sprinklers be shut off soon after the original fire broke out. Meanwhile, Macy’s, which escaped the fires mostly unscathed, is temporarily relocating its 330 Roseville employees to nearby stores. They will return to the Galleria when shoppers are allowed back in, a spokeswoman said. But for that to happen requires a go-ahead from investigators. “It’ll be erred on the side of caution,” Roseville Police Lt. Michael Doane said of when stores would start opening again. “It’s a painstaking process.” Lien Hoang can be reached at lienh@goldcountrymedia.com.