Arson Victim Hurt Before, Police Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A man arrested on suspicion of trying to kill his live-in girlfriend by binding and gagging her and torching their apartment allegedly had a long history of abusing her, police said Tuesday.

Vinay Gandhi, 22, was being held without bail at Orange County Central Jail in a Monday morning fire in the apartment he shared with his fiancee, Hemangini Ladva, 21, Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman Richard J. Olson said.

He was taken to jail on suspicion of attempted murder and arson after firefighters found Ladva, her mouth and hands bound with thick packing tape and almost unconscious from smoke inhalation, Fullerton police Sgt. Dan Becera said.

Police said they expected to ask the district attorney's office to file felony charges against Gandhi this morning. If the district attorney agrees, Becera said, Gandhi could face an arraignment on charges of attempted murder and arson at North County Municipal Court in Fullerton later today.

Police investigators are trying to piece together a motive but think that Gandhi had "established a pattern of abusive behavior" toward Ladva, Becera said. The couple, both students at Cal State Fullerton who are in a three-year relationship, moved into the apartment seven months ago, he added.

Based on police interviews with the victim, "it appears there was some type of physical and mental abuse for a while," Becera said.

Firefighters were called to the 248-unit apartment complex in the 2400 block of Nutwood Avenue just before 8 a.m. Tuesday to put out a fire that started in the couple's dining room.

As firefighters burst through the apartment door, they found Ladva lying in the living room, trying to escape the thick smoke that was quickly filling the small apartment, Becera said.

Although bound, gagged and left in the dining area, Ladva managed to crawl to a phone and dial 911 before the fire consumed the single-bedroom unit, Becera said.

Working the packing tape off her mouth, Ladva kept in contact with the 911 operator while firefighters rushed to the scene and put out the blaze, Becera said.

She did not tell the operator that she had been bound and gagged, he added.

"Basically all she did was scream for help and say that the apartment was on fire," Becera said.

After firefighters rescued her, Ladva was treated for slight smoke inhalation, Becera said, and was later taken to an unidentified relative's house.

Becera said that at first, Ladva had been reluctant to describe what happened. But she later told investigators that she and her fiance had been arguing. Police believe that Gandhi, after allegedly binding her hands with tape, then poured fingernail polish remover on the floor and ignited the carpet. He then reportedly fled the scene.

Becera said investigators are awaiting results of various laboratory tests to determine the exact cause of the fire.

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