Los Angeles News

Person of interest sought in forest arson

Monday, October 12, 2009

The search is on for a homeless man who's a possible person of interest in the massive and deadly Station Fire in the Angeles National Forest. He's wanted for questioning in a small fire that started just days earlier.

Homicide investigators have been pursuing every lead they can in the investigation of the deadly Station Fire. That includes looking at tips they received from the public and they say they that several motorists noticed a suspicious figure walking up and down the Angeles Crest Highway far away from any homes or residential areas. Now investigators say they know who that person is.

Babatunsin Olukunle is a Nigerian immigrant and a transient wanted for questioning. He reportedly witnessed the start of one arson fire and he could have information on another.

"What we would like, if anyone comes across him, to please call police so that we can speak to him regarding the Lady Bug Fire," said Lt. Liam Gallagher, L.A. County Sheriff's Dept.

The Lady Bug Fire was started 6 miles north of the Station Fire six days earlier. It has at least one suspicious similarity to the Station Fire, which devastated the forest, burned dozens of homes and claimed the lives of two Los Angeles County firefighters. It was started very close to Angeles Crest Highway. Off-duty fire personnel just happened to see it and Olukunle.

"They had Mr. Olukunle there," said Gallagher. "I believe they said at one point to stand by, but he took off into the woods and they never saw him again."

Olukunle looks for recycled cans. He has been seen from foothill communities all the way up the mountain with nothing more than a shopping cart or a bicycle. Investigators describe a troubled past. Deputies at the La Crescenta Station held him for a 72-hour mental health observation. He had been a student at UC Davis, but his family says that ended two years ago.

"Came home from UC Davis one day and started acting strangely," said Lt. Gallagher. "He left his parent's home and they haven't seen him since."

In the last two years he has been seen in Redondo Beach, where he was cited for illegal camping. He was seen in the Crescenta Valley area along the Angeles Crest Highway. And just two weeks ago he was seen in Lancaster, where he went to apply for public assistance.

Olukunle is 25 years old, 5 feet 11 inches tall, weighing 220 pounds. and he speaks with a thick Nigerian accent.

If you have any information about his whereabouts you are asked to call the L.A. County Sheriff's Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500. They say that Olukunle has no record whatsoever, no history of any arrest, except for one citation for illegal camping. He was no history of violence either, but they want you to just call police if you happen to see him.

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