URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Police believe one man is responsible for intentionally setting at least four fires in Champaign and Rantoul dating back to March 3.
Jamal Carter, 32, was arraigned Thursday via video conference from the Champaign County Jail where he is being held on $500,000 bond.
He has so far been charged with one count of aggravated arson following his arrest Wednesday. Champaign County Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Alferink alleged Carter set fire to a house belonging to his relatives in the 800 block of Centennial Drive in Champaign, knowing that people were home.
Alferink said Champaign police responded on May 24 at 1:41 a.m. to find charcoal lit next to a backdoor entrance and a blunt object — like a piece of a brick — that appeared to have been used to break out a bedroom window where a toddler was sleeping.
Carter faces six to 30 years in prison if convicted.
The Assistant State’s Attorney told Judge Bret Olmstead that Champaign and Rantoul police have tied Carter to an additional May arson case and three instances this month where Carter allegedly approached the home with a gas container at the same residence. In one July case, prosecutors accused him of breaking a window and dumping gas inside the home.
Alferink laid out a similar pattern at a Rantoul home belonging to another relative in the 1600 block of Gleason Drive, alleging Carter is behind two intentional fires there, one occurring within hours of the May 24 fire on Centennial Drive in Champaign.
Additional arson-related charges, timeframe unknown, are expected, according to Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz who said her office was continuing to sort out details Thursday as investigators complete their reports.
A timeline of fires and instances prosecutors said police have tied Carter to:
- March 3: Fire and police officials respond to a neighboring house belonging to another relative in the 800 block of Centennial Drive just after 7 p.m. Reports say the garage was damaged by the fire and had to be torn down.
- May 3: A fire is reported at a home in the 2100 block of Georgetown Circle in Champaign after gas was reportedly poured on the front porch. Police confirmed a witness’s report who also provided a vehicle and vague suspect description to authorities. Alferink said police later found the rental car in Carter’s name with a gas container inside. The resident reported he was a childhood friend.
- May 3: While investigating the above fire, first responders were dispatched to the 800 block of Centennial Drive for the first of two fires at the address listed in the existing charge against Carter. Officials said the cause was arson.
- May 24: The fire report Carter was arrested in connection to.
- May 24: A short time later, fire and police were dispatched to the relative’s home in the 1600 block of Gleason Drive in Rantoul. The house was a total loss and the cause was, for the second time — the first being April 21 — determined to be arson. Firefighters first responded to a report of a fire at the residence on March 2. The cause of that fire is undetermined. Prosecutors say on May 24, the same rental car linked to Centennial Drive in Champaign was caught on the home’s external video monitoring device.
- May 25 (Chicago area): Carter’s uncle was awakened by the doorbell after a cinderblock was thrown through his window, according to prosecutors who say a towel was found stuffed in a dryer vent outside of the home, redirecting gas back into the residence. The uncle reportedly chased after Carter but ultimately lost him.
- July 1: Carter allegedly returned to the home in question in this case on Centennial Drive in Champaign. Officials reported gas dumped inside the residence. Alferink obtained a warrant for his arrest later that day.
- July 4: Carter is seen approaching the home again, according to officials who say the homeowner chased him away, and he left behind a stick covered in gasoline.
- July 5: Carter is caught on video again approaching the same home with a gas container and towel. Police say he fled in a car stolen out of Tacoma, Washington.
Police spot Carter on the University of Illinois campus later in the day Tuesday where they set out a trap to flatten his tires. Carter was able to evade police even after a taser is deployed, according to Alferink.
He was arrested Wednesday on campus after a chase.
Alferink also cited a pending charge as far away as Napa, California and another arrest warrant for theft in Utah.