Hotel arson suspect was free pending parole revocation

Two people were in the lobby when the fire was set. Repairs are expected to cost more than $100,000, police said.

Hotel arson suspect was free pending parole revocation
Berkeley firefighters outside the hotel lobby arson fire on March 23, 2024. Ariel Nava Photo

A man authorities say set a Berkeley hotel on fire after being released on his own recognizance despite pending parole revocation proceedings is facing new felony charges this week, court papers show.

Police say Jamar Smith, 42, set the lobby on fire just days after being arrested on suspicion of burglarizing the same hotel, which is located at Sacramento Street and University Avenue in West Berkeley.

There were no injuries due to the fire, but two people were inside the lobby when it was intentionally set, according to court papers. Another 10 guests were inside the hotel when it happened.

Repairs are now expected to cost more than $100,000, Berkeley police said.

Berkeley hotel lobby fire prompts arson investigation
Authorities are reviewing lobby security footage and have collected samples from the scene to learn more about what happened, BFD said.

On the morning of March 17, BPD wrote, Jamar Smith went into the hotel at 1499 University and stole about $200 in cash from the register as well as a wallet from the back office.

Police found Smith nearby and arrested him at about 7:30 a.m. They found the stolen cash on him, along with suspected methamphetamine, at the time of his arrest, BPD said.

Jamar Smith. BPD

Police wrote that Smith, who is unhoused, was on parole for home-invasion robbery when he was arrested in connection with the hotel burglary.

Several days later, on March 21, Smith was charged with violating his parole, which is a felony. He refused to go to court for the parole revocation hearing, according to court papers.

On Friday, March 22, despite the parole violation charges, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Veronica Rios Reddick released Smith on his own recognizance with a stay-away order from the Berkeley hotel.

The judge also ordered him to report to his parole agent and "comply with an assessment" for substance use counseling.

The next day, on Saturday, March 23, police wrote, Smith went to the Chevron station across from the hotel and filled a plastic jug with gasoline shortly before 11:30 a.m.

Then he went into the hotel lobby and doused it with gasoline as a staff member and hotel guest looked on.

"Smith lit the gasoline on fire and the lobby became engulfed in flames and smoke," police wrote. The incident was captured on lobby surveillance footage.

Smith fled the scene but police arrested him in the days that followed, according to police. He is now being held without bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.

Jamar Smith now facing felony arson charges

Berkeley firefighters outside the hotel lobby arson fire on March 23, 2024. Ariel Nava Photo

On Wednesday, the Alameda County district attorney's office charged Smith with arson of an inhabited structure as well as recklessly causing fire to an inhabited structure, both felonies.

Charging papers list five felony convictions for Smith, including for burglary and robbery, dating back 20 years.

No further information was immediately available about his robbery conviction.

But Smith had also been arrested in February and charged with setting wood on fire in front of a Whole Foods store in Dublin — resulting in a 4- to 5-foot "blazing" fire — but the misdemeanor case was dismissed later that same month due to insufficient evidence, according to court records.

Smith is now being held without bail at Santa Rita Jail and is scheduled to enter a plea April 4 at Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.

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