Man who allegedly started fire at Wal-Mart charged with arson

- An ex-felon was charged today with arson for allegedly setting fire to children's Halloween costumes at a Wal-Mart store in San Leandro on Tuesday afternoon.

Antwan Alexander Johnson, a 40-year-old Oakland resident, was arraigned in Alameda County Superior Court in Hayward this afternoon.

Johnson, who's being held at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in lieu of $250,000 bail, is scheduled to return to court Friday morning to be assigned an attorney and possibly enter a plea.

Prosecutors say Johnson previously was convicted of possession for sale of cocaine base in 1995 and of unlawfully driving or taking a vehicle in 2002.

San Leandro police said that at about 10 a.m. Tuesday, loss prevention officers at the Wal-Mart store at 15555 Hesperian Blvd. noticed a suspicious man, later identified as Johnson, pushing a shopping cart with what later was identified as a two-quart bottle of charcoal lighter fluid, which was leaking.

At about 1:40 p.m. on Tuesday, loss prevention officers saw the same man squirting lighter fluid on Halloween costumes that were displayed in a sales aisle near the middle of the store, police Lt. Robert McManus said.

McManus said a fire erupted and smoke filled the store. Wal-Mart employees used fire extinguishers to begin putting the fire out and Alameda County firefighters who responded to the scene were able to extinguish the flames.

Store employees detained Johnson and San Leandro police took custody of him, according to McManus.

Store surveillance video footage that detectives reviewed after the incident showed Johnson squirting charcoal lighter, believed to have been taken from Wal-Mart's garden center, on additional items at the store, such as inflatable mattresses that were on display in the sporting goods section, McManus said.

Detectives have interviewed Johnson but they aren't releasing the details of the interview or a possible motive for starting the fire, McManus said.

San Leandro police Officer Alex Rendez wrote in a probable cause statement that Johnson was arrested based on witness statements, evidence at the scene and surveillance video.

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