SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - A transient is seen on camera moments before a house caught fire in downtown San Jose. Now, that man is in police custody thanks to the video and alert neighbors who later spotted him. A citizens arrest Thursday night after a family of four was burned out of their house.
“My heart dropped at first when I saw the first flame,” said Brian Rhett. “It was kind of surreal and I called her and she's screaming, there's a fire. My heart just sinks.”
Rhett was at work just around 11 a.m. when video from his “Nest” surveillance camera captured a homeless man walking up to his porch. Minutes later, the man is seen near a couch and then the couch bursts into flames and the fire spreads to the home.
Rhett’s wife and daughters were inside the house. They saw the flames and escaped.
“I heard something pop out,” said Erin Rhett of San Jose. “I’m like oh no. I’m going to get out of the house. I just got my kids and got out of the house.”
Firefighters were able to quickly put out the two-alarm blaze and an all-day fire investigation ensued. Rhett was confident his camera captured the culprit.
“Maybe he fell asleep, smoking, he got up and walked off,” said Rhett. “There's no doubt that he started it. He was right in the middle of it. There’s no way a couch is going to burst into flames without some sort of ignition.”
Rhett turned the video over to arson investigators and told his neighbors to be on the lookout.
Then around 7:30 p.m., Rhett's wife spotted the man in the video walking on the street. Neighbors jumped in and stopped the man wearing the exact same clothes in the video.
“These are my friends and my neighbors,” said Joe Rosillo of San Jose. “I wasn't willing to take the chance of seeing him go away.”
Police ultimately handcuffed him and took the man away much to the relief of the neighborhood.
“There’s no reason for him to do this,” said Rhett. “We don't know who he is. There's no point for him to do this.”