Thursday Oct 21 2010
Roseville's Westfield Galleria Mall ablaze, suspect ID'd
By: Lien Hoang, The Press Tribune
The quietest time of day at Roseville’s top landmark turned frantic Thursday when a man took over a store and set off several fires. Alexander Piggee forced a total evacuation of the Westfield Galleria Mall after he allegedly marched into a second-story Game Stop, told employees he was armed, and ignited multiple fires that brought down part of the roof. The fires were not fully extinguished by press time. Peace officers, who have arrested Piggee, got the first call at 10:22 a.m. The 23-year-old transient reportedly barricaded himself in the backroom or bathroom of the Game Stop after forcing the employees to leave. Officials have linked Piggee to two recent arsons in Sacramento County. They confirmed that one, non-lethal shot was fired to break the window of the Game Stop store, but could not confirm whether Piggee carried a weapon Thursday. When they arrested Piggee (pronounced pi-GAY), authorities said he was no longer wearing a backpack he had carried inside. That prompted a bomb investigation, but when the squad located the bag, flames flared up again, forcing them to leave the building. They couldn’t recover the backpack, which ended up buried beneath debris after the partial roof collapse, as of latest reports. “It was just too unsafe,” Roseville Police Lt. Michael Doane said, adding that the squad was using a robot and protective gear. No injuries were reported. Smoke that billowed from the mall roof died down until 1:45 p.m., when it burst back into the sky and sent pieces of ash raining down into the parking lot. It was not until this second wind that the roof over Game Stop came down. “Priorities have shifted again,” Doane said, as the next round of black smoke flew overhead. Officials said Piggee, in a purple T-shirt, a black beanie and zip-up, sneakers and a backpack, entered Game Stop muttering that his sister had been abducted or taken into custody. He later made his way into an adjacent shop by breaking through a wall or ceiling, or taking a corridor, Roseville Police Detective Jerry Wernli said. That was when officers arrested Piggee before he could get any farther. “You have to make that split-second decision,” Wernli said. Robert Haney said he was working at Lids Thursday morning when a voice came over the intercom telling mall employees about a situation that would be cleared up in 30 to 60 minutes. “They said there was nothing to be alarmed about,” Haney said. But he smelled smoke, and after sirens and flashing lights went off, security guards went store to store directing workers to evacuate. Employees said they left the 1.5 million-square-foot mall in groups, preventing a rush for the exits. While they waited outside, at least 30 fire companies, including more than 100 firefighters, helped battle the blaze, according to Roseville fire chief Dennis Mathisen. They used 100-foot engine ladders from the ground, guided by a Sac Metro helicopter overhead. California Highway Patrol also dispatched a helicopter, in case Piggee tried to escape by roof, and a SWAT team was on site. Authorities said it was too soon to estimate the scope and cost of the damage, which includes the effects of fire, smoke and water. When it was too dangerous to make contact with the flames, firefighters relied on the store’s sprinklers. Scores of spectators camped out on the grass and roads around the mall. Employees stuck around for hours, some to hear whether they’d return to work, others because their cars were blocked inside the parking garage. “I don’t really care,” said Brenda Rodriguez, who works at Saigon Eats and whose car was in the garage. “It’s for everyone’s safety, so I’d rather have more measures than less.” Haney was not as happy about the wait, or about the customers he was losing. “That shot my business for the day, that’s for sure,” he said. Authorities didn’t know when the mall would reopen. At 3:50 p.m., they gave owners access to their cars and estimated the site would be closed for five to six more hours. Piggee, who will face arson charges at minimum, is being held at the Roseville Police Department jail. While officers questioned him outside the mall, Piggee, in handcuffs, at times lay down on a wooden bench or sat with a leg propped up on the bench. His MySpace page, which he last logged onto Wednesday, says he is a college student and a 2005 graduate of Highlands High School. His Facebook page, updated Wednesday, lists him as a Sacramento resident and employee of In-N-Out in West Sacramento. Lien Hoang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.