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Posted on Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 8:49 a.m.

Thompson Block fire started by trespassers smoking, drinking in the building, police say

By Amalie Nash

Police believe a 21-year-old Ypsilanti man and several others were trespassing in the Thompson Block building last fall to smoke and drink when they sparked a fire that gutted much of the historic structure.

A warrant has been issued charging Jacob Robert-Andrew Popiolek with arson of real property, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.


Jacob Robert-Andrew Popiolek

Ypsilanti Police Chief Amy Walker said investigators are still trying to determine who else was with Popiolek that night. She said it appears the fire was caused by alcohol possibly sparked by a cigarette, and police have no evidence any other accelerant was used. But authorities said it was not an accident and was intentionally set.

"This has been a lengthy investigation to determine how this fire started," Walker said today. "We believe they were trespassing, a fire started, and it got out of control."

Washtenaw County Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor Steve Hiller declined to discuss the case this morning. But he said for someone to be charged with felony arson, he or she must "willfully and maliciously" set a fire.

The fire broke out at about 1:40 a.m. Sept. 23 at the Thompson Block at the northeast corner of Cross and River streets in Ypsilanti's Depot Town. By the time firefighters arrived, the fire was so massive that it required help from multiple departments to bring it under control.

Popiolek was long a suspect in the case, investigators said. Walker said police still don't know how many people were in the building, which was under renovation, when the fire started.

Walker also said there's no reason to believe the fire is tied to a series of arsons in Ann Arbor. Since the beginning of the year, a number of cars have been set on fire near the University of Michigan's Central Campus, and detectives also are trying to determine whether a house fire that killed a 22-year-old man and injured two others was intentionally set.

Since the Thompson Block fire, the structure has been supported by shoring that extends into the street, which has caused a legal battle between the city and developer Stewart Beal. Beal has vowed to continue renovating the building.

Police have not been able to locate Popiolek. According to a wanted poster, his last known address is in Ypsilanti, but he may have fled the area. Popiolek is white, 6 feet 3 inches tall, 160 pounds, and has brown hair and brown eyes.

Anyone with information on his whereabouts or the case is asked to call Det. Jason Cyrbok at 734-482-9872 or the main line at 734-483-9510.


Grand Marquis de Sade

Tue, May 4, 2010 : 6:31 p.m.

"By the time firefighters arrived, the fire was so massive that it required help from multiple departments to bring it under control". This statement is false. As someone who was an eyewitness to this debacle trust me when I tell you that the massive conflagration portion of the evening did not start until approximately 45 minutes after the Ypsilant Fire Department responded. This is approximately the time that Pittsfield Twp, Ypsilanti Twp, and Ann Arbor arrived to assist. At that point it WAS "so massive that it took help from multiple fire departments" to extinguish. Pittsfield Twp was the first agency to even so much as hook up to a hydrant.


Sat, May 1, 2010 : 4:24 p.m.

Some people do serve their time on weekends, and some people get work passes. I don't agree however that arsonists should be among the criminals allowed those privileges. Arson is not a victimless crime and the perpetrators can be very dangerous.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 11:57 a.m.

Becasue then you have a jail that has hundreds of convicts leaving for the day and coming back at night, it's a logistical nightmare.

Danny Noonan

Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 11:52 a.m.

So if they get this guy he'll spend a few years in jail, maybe and gets out free as a bird. How about he goes to work, and ALL the money he makes go to restitution for three years. He spends his nights and weekend in jail needing no expenses to live.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 11:19 a.m.

So they were drinking grain alcohol or something? Barcardi 151? Your everyday 80 proof alcohol isn't known to ignite with a cig.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 9:59 a.m.

Thank you so much for correcting me. You really seem to enjoy correcting people. As I dont have a college degree and have made such a huge leap inferring that they have caught Mr. Popiolek. In fact, they only have his name, his picture, and an arrest warrant charging Jacob Robert-Andrew Popiolek with arson of real property. My Bad. Its been nice visiting, I think Ill take my comments to a more accepting place.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 9:47 a.m.

David, that building hasn't been really secured for a long time. There has often been talk over the past few years among the denizens of Depot Town that the building was open for all and sundry. I, myself, have seen doors open when no one seemed to be around. Mr. Miller, over at the Automobile Historical Museum, told me he often saw all kinds of people wandering in and out at all hours. I agree that having no insurance seems to say the building was no longer being worked on. But, even if that was the case, you'd think something would have been done to secure it. I mean, what if children had gone in there and someone would have been hurt? Wouldn't Mr. Beal have been liable? So, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me that it was as open as it was. But, Mr. Beal is certainly in a bind because of it.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 9:31 a.m.

@Peter, they have NOT caught the arsonist. They have identified a suspect and issued a warrant, but the suspect is still at large.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 9:22 a.m.

Im glad they have caught the arsonist who helped burn down this historic building. Its kind of sad that the comments section is becoming an English and grammar grading system. I hope my comment is properly stated, I dont want to be attacked by the grammar police


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 9:19 a.m.

Good luck to Prosecutors in proving that the fire was "willfully and maliciously" set. I'm still somewhat surprised that there was no security or even an attempt to secure the building a bit? Generally, when a building is being renovated, equipment is brought on site as well as supplies. One could argue that if Mr. Beal was indeed renovating the structure, equipment was on site which means permits and insurance would have had to be already in place. Given the lack of insurance, as already established, the building WAS not being renovated, nor secure.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 9:10 a.m.

So, drinking and smoking by some trepassers started the fire, eh? I wonder who bought the beer and alchol? That fire always did seem very very suspicious.


Thu, Apr 29, 2010 : 8:09 a.m.

"She said it appears the fire was caused by alcohol possibly sparked by a cigarette, and police have no evidence an accelerant was used." Is this saying the Alcohol was ignited by the cigarette? If so, wouldn't the alcohol BE an accelerant? Or is this saying that the alcohol caused the behavior that led to the fire, but played no direct role?