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Man faces arson charges for fire at his auto shop

Raul Antonio Menendez Vega made his first appearance Thursday on felony arson charges for allegedly attempting to start his auto repair shop on fire.

WILLMAR -- Raul Antonio Menendez Vega, 33, of Willmar, made his first appearance Thursday on felony arson charges for allegedly attempting to start his auto repair shop on fire.

Unconditional bail was set at $25,000 with conditional release allowed on his personal recognizance. His next appearance is Sept. 7.

Vega faces one first- and one second-degree arson charge in Kandiyohi County District Court.

According to the complaint, a Willmar police officer was on routine patrol around 2:50 a.m. May 19 and observed a yellow SUV on fire next to Tony's Auto, 625 Litchfield Ave. S.W.

Smoke and fire were also coming from a broken window in the office of the repair shop.

The Willmar Fire Department responded to the scene and extinguished the blaze.

A detective and a state fire marshal were also called and discovered several broken and intact Molotov cocktails in and around the building. The incendiary devices were beer bottles, filled with a liquid substance. Rags were stuffed into the bottle opening.

The building had been locked, forcing firefighters to break down the door to enter the office.

It was also noted the hole in a window was too small for a person to enter.

The detective met with Vega, who said he had $150,000 in insurance to cover the loss. He said he had opened the shop May 1, but wasn't making any money because business was slow. Vega's sole employee told the detective he had been at the shop until 5:20 p.m. the day before the fire and confirmed that only he and Vega had keys because they had just changed the locks.

The fire marshal determined the fire in the SUV started in the rear cargo area and moved through the interior of the vehicle. The fire marshal ruled out accidental causes. The vehicle was registered to Nino's Auto Sales and valued at $4,000.

Similarly, the building was examined and the fire marshal eliminated all accidental causes.

The fluid from two intact bottles found in the building was sent to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for examination. It was determined to be gasoline.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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