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Man suspected of causing StarKist warehouse fire arrested

Star-Kist is thankful that no one was injured in a fire that occurred at the StarKist warehouse in Tafuna last week, says Mary Sestric, StarKist Corporate Affairs spokesperson, in responding to Samoa News queries on the incident.


Sestric informed Samoa News that it’s unclear at this time as to how much it will cost to repair the area, given that they are still assessing the damage and are unable to share that information. 


In the meantime, the main suspect behind the fire, Tilotilo Opelu, is being held on bail of $50,000 facing charges of Arson, third degree, Property Damage first degree and Burglary first degree.


The arson and property damage counts are class D felonies which are punishable by up to five years in jail, and a fine of up to $5,000 while the burglary count is a class B felony punishable from five to 15 years in jail. If convicted the defendant is looking at 15 years behind bars.


According to the government’s case, on the night of the incident around 1:22am, police officers were patrolling the StarKist warehouse compound when officers observed a male walking around the compound, while a taxi was parked in the area.


Court filings say an hour later when police officers were patrolling the same area, they observed smoke coming out of the warehouse. Lead investigator in this matter is Police Officer Mosese Lomu.


The government claims that a couple of hours later, the defendant’s wife arrived at the scene and informed police officers that her husband Opelu contacted her via cell phone telling her that he burned the StarKist warehouse.


During the course of the investigation, police officers sought information on the taxi that was parked in the area prior to the fire incident. Police managed to get a hold of the taxi driver who told police that he had received a call from Opelu to pick him up from the StarKist warehouse. The taxi driver further stated to police that when he picked him up, Opelu asked that they go to the store.


Court filings say that on the way to the store, Opelu allegedly told the taxi driver that he set the warehouse on fire and his lighter got wet after the sprinklers in the warehouse were automatically activated when there was smoke in the warehouse.


It’s alleged upon returning from the store with a new lighter, the defendant instructed the taxi driver to drop him (Opelu) at the fence and wait for him. Court filings say, Opelu then allegedly gave the taxi driver $19.20 and a pair of earrings and instructed the driver to wait for him. The taxi driver told police when the defendant exited his vehicle at the StarKist gate, he (the taxi driver) saw police officers patrolling the area, and so he left.


The defendant in this matter was arraigned in High Court on Monday where he denied the allegations against him. Chief Justice Michael Kruse scheduled his pre-trial conference in this matter on July 12, 2013.


The defendant is represented by Assistant Public Defender Mike White while prosecuting is Assistant Attorney General Julie Pasquale