Cops: Neighbor named "strong suspect" in string of arsons

10:40 PM, Apr 30, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PETERSBURG, Florida -- On Tuesday evening, word spread like wildfire around Causeway Isles when St. Petersburg police arrested one of its 26-year-old residents.

Jessica Sowick is charged with burglary, but police are calling her a "strong suspect" in a string of arsons over the past 18 months. Detectives believe Sowick may have set as many as eight fires at homes.

Gail Lynn has lived in the community for 25 years and says, "I hope that is the person that has been setting the fires."

She's not alone; several people we spoke with wanted to know about Sowick and how she was tracked down, especially since she's their neighbor.

Lynn says, "You just wonder what the motive is. Why would someone who probably lives here do something like that?" 

Her neighbor, Mark Bevis, says, "I thought it was teenagers because you'd see them, like, all hours of the morning."

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Sowick isn't charged with arson, but investigators say a surveillance camera caught her just a few days ago using a permanent marker to write words on the walls of a home, words like "fire starter" and "you never got me."

We knocked on the door where Sowick lives with her mother, but there was no answer.

Sowick seemed to be a trusted member of the community where she lived. Several homeowners had given her the keys to their homes so she could take care of their pets.

That was the case in one arson where a couple lost their home and everything they owned to fire when they were out of town. The home has now been torn down. One of their two dogs died in that fire.

Karen Hughart believes she's seen Sowick on several occasions walking Greyhound dogs in the neighborhood. She says, "I went out and bought extra smoke alarms, trying to be vigilant, trying to watch, so it's been a big strain on all us in the neighborhood."

St. Petersburg police say Sowick hasn't always lived in the community. They say there were suspicious fires in the two communities where she lived before Causeway Isles as well.

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