Bail stays as is for man accused of starting Da Vinci fire downtown

The man accused of starting a fire that razed the construction site for the Da Vinci apartments, the size of a city block downtown, will remain jailed on $1-million bail, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled Thursday.

The public defender for Dawud Abdulwali, 56, said after his bail review hearing that the case against her client was "pretty much circumstantial" and offered to turn over his passport. But Judge Upinder Kalra refused to reduce Abdulwali's bail.


Prosecutors opposed a bail reduction. Abdulwali has flown to Saipan twice since the 75,000-square-foot, seven-story Da Vinci complex burned down Dec. 8, they said. A decade ago, L.A.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Carney said Abdulwali is "both a flight risk and a danger to the community."

"This was an arson of massive proportions," Carney said. "It placed everyone within a several-block radius in danger."

Abdulwali is charged with arson of a structure and aggravated arson in connection with the fire. He has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court July 22 to set the date for his preliminary hearing.

Among the evidence against Abdulwali is security camera footage showing a taxi making two stops, minutes apart, parking on the freeway shoulder in downtown Los Angeles, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the fire. Each time, the driver's door opened and a man got out, jumped a low fence and disappeared into the sprawling construction site of the Da Vinci complex.

The second time the man returned to his cab and drove off, the video showed a glow of flames from the unfinished building.

The cost of the fire is approaching $100 million, Carney said Thursday.

Prosecutors allege that Abdulwali used an accelerant on the fourth floor of the seven-story unfinished apartment building that hugged the 110 Freeway. No injuries were reported, but the blaze gutted the structure and damaged a nearby city building. Flames rose several stories and sent up a massive plume of smoke that could be seen across the city. The heat from the fire melted signs on the freeway.

Authorities declined to detail how they identified Abdulwali as a suspect, but expressed confidence that he acted alone. An "electronic trail" ultimately led Los Angeles police to the man, said a second source, who also requested his name not be used because of the ongoing investigation.

"You can't walk outside your house these days without leaving a trail," said the source.

None of the evidence collected, however, has helped officials determine a possible motive for setting the blaze, the source said. Abdulwali appeared to have no connection to the developer building the apartments, had never worked on the site and did not live nearby, authorities said.

For the last eight months or so, he paid $450 a month to rent a room in the back of a house on East 73rd Street that Poleth Chavez, 25, shares with her mom and brother.

Chavez said Abdulwali drove an independent taxi for the first few months he lived there, but then she noticed "his cab just out of nowhere disappeared." The city had no record of Abdulwali being licensed to drive a taxi.

A telephone number Abdulwali gave Chavez matched the number included in an online ad posted in early February by someone identified only as "D." The seller was offering a "2005 Crown Victoria (Taxi) — $1500 (South Los Angeles)."


Staff writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report.