Officers save suspected arsonist from home fire

Times Staff Writer

Officers rushed into a flaming Hollywood area apartment Saturday to rescue a man suspected of setting the fire, with olive oil, allegedly to kill himself and his wife.

The woman had already fled the building, but witnesses credited officers, who also put out the blaze and alerted neighbors, with saving the man and possibly other residents.

The suspect, Moshe “Mike” Jacobs, 66, who grappled with officers after being revived, was treated at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for smoke inhalation, then later booked on a charge of attempted murder.


Five officers from the LAPD’s Hollywood Division also inhaled smoke but were quickly released from the same hospital. Jacobs’ wife, Vicki, 58, was treated for a minor head injury.

The fire caused an estimated $5,000 in damage.

Neighbors spoke of an unhappy, devout man with a temper.

The call came in as a domestic disturbance, a woman screaming in the 800 block of North Fuller Avenue.

“I was watching TV and I heard noises from the apartment next door,” said Sonya, who asked that her last name not be published. “The man was throwing dishes. I heard the noise of the breaking dishes. The woman was begging: ‘Help! Help!’ Usually, she’s quiet.”

First to the scene were Officer Carrie Cheng and reserve Officer John Engels, who came upon Jacobs’ wife wearing a black shawl.

“She tells us the apartment is on fire and my husband is inside,” said Cheng who, like the other officers, was available at a brief Saturday afternoon news conference.

The officers noticed billowing smoke. They quickly called the Fire Department and asked for backup.


They also banged on the locked door and, after getting no response, used their batons to break windows, Engels said.

Sgt. Sal Ogaz arrived quickly and brought a fire extinguisher from his squad car. Other officers rapped on neighbors’ doors. Inside the smoke-choked first-floor apartment, Ogaz noticed Jacobs on a bed. He wasn’t breathing, Cheng said.

The officers then carried him out.

Jacobs barely registered a pulse. Under a carport, 13-year veteran Officer Ricardo Oliva was standing by with rookie partner Eric Perez. Oliva pulled the man’s arms back and over his head, a technique for restarting breathing.

It worked.

Officers described Jacobs as disoriented and wanting to run off.

Neighbors called him angry and uncooperative and said officers had to restrain him on the strip of grass in front of the two-story building.

Jacobs was described by neighbors as an Orthodox Jew who pored over religious texts and faithfully attended temple.

An investigator reported that Jacobs had apparently disabled smoke alarms, set more than one fire and allegedly told his wife: “We’re going to die in this apartment together.”


Arson investigators left with cartons of olive oil marked as evidence. They declined to confirm that olive oil was the fuel, though building resident Paulina Matsoukas said that’s what investigators told her.

An officer returned to the smoldering apartment to retrieve Jacobs’ black hat because he wanted his head covered, as required by his religious tradition.