String of arsons in Alameda leads to shocking criminal charges against 2 men

ALAMEDA, Calif. (KTVU) - Two men are now facing serious but unrelated criminal charges in Alameda after a string of arsons last September. But what's surprising is only one is charged with arson.

Several businesses still stand in ruins after eight arsons on the morning of September 28th. "Family run dry cleaning business has been open for 30 years is just completely decimated," says Alameda Police Lt. Jill Ottaviano

The owner of Brite Cleaners said at the time, "There's nothing I can say, for me my life is gone."

Twenty-two-year-old Andrew Gutierrez and 28-year-old Stephen Petersen were arrested independently for the crimes.

Peterson was later cleared, while Gutierrez is still charged. "We have really undisputable proof that he set the arsons. Because we have (surveillance) video showing him lighting one of the fires," Ottaviano said of Gutierrez.

Investigators then connected him to a rape that happened nine days earlier. "I can say it was a stranger rape," said Ottaviano.

On September 19th, a woman had passed out drunk in her car on Park Street. When she came to, she was being raped by an unknown man, who Lt. Ottaviano says was Gutierrez. "There was fingerprints left at the scene, and that's how we were able to match them up to the suspect."

In Peterson's case, he was in jail for several weeks, while police searched all his belongings, including his computer. There's even a Free Stephen Petersen page on Facebook. Police determined he was not connected to the fires, but they did find something else. "We located some child pornography on his computer."

Petersen responded to a warrant for his arrest last week and he turned himself in on Friday.

After initially being found at the scene of one fire, police say Petersen might have avoided a lot of trouble for himself by explaining why he was there, which he refused to do. They say he might not have been arrested in the first place, which would have prevented police from searching his computer and arresting him again after finding the child porn. "That is also true, yes," added Ottaviano.

The good news for Brite Cleaners is the owner just opened this new store near Nob Hill Foods on Sunday.

Both Gutierrez and Peterson are set to appear in court in the next two weeks.

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