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01.03.12

Dorothee Burkhart, Mother of Alleged L.A. Arsonist, Arrested

The man accused of terrorizing the city with fires apparently began his rampage after his mother, a German immigrant, was taken into federal custody on an arrest warrant. Christine Pelisek reports.

The mother of alleged serial arsonist Harry Burkhart is scheduled to appear in a downtown federal court today in Los Angeles. Dorothee Burkhart, a native of Germany, has been held in federal custody since last week. According to federal authorities, a provisional arrest warrant was filed against Burkhart’s mother at the request of German police.

Dorothee Burkhart’s hearing in front of a federal magistrate judge comes just a day after Los Angeles authorities arrested her son for 53 fires that besieged the City of Angels for four days over New Year’s weekend. Harry Burkhart was charged with one count of arson and is being held in lieu of $250,000 bail at the Inmate Reception Center in downtown L.A.

Last week, Dorothee Burkhart, who has been living in a Sunset Boulevard apartment with her son near where the fires occurred, appeared in federal court. According to sources, during the hearing her son became enraged and began spouting anti-American remarks.

Shortly after the hearing, police said her son began his arson rampage. Burkhart was finally caught after a State Department official recognized him in a surveillance video that showed a heavyset man with a receding hairline and ponytail walking away from a car fire that was set in the parking garage of the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex, the home of the Academy Awards. The State Department official, who was at the hearing, saw the footage of Burkhart and contacted the ATF/LA Fire Department joint support and operation center 24-hour hotline on Sunday. An ATF agent and his fire department partner interviewed the tipster who told them about Burkhart’s blue minivan.

Burkhart’s alleged reign of terror may have continued if not for the quick thinking of a Beverly Hills real-estate lawyer who’s also a part-time sheriff’s reserve officer and was on his fourth shift as a deputy. Shervin Lalezary, a 30-year-old American citizen who was born in Tehran, spotted a man fitting the description of the suspect at 3 a.m. Monday morning near the corner of Sunset and Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood. The man, who turned out to be Burkhart, was driving the dark blue minivan with British Columbia license plates. Lalezary, who was privy to the information passed on by the State Department, recognized Burkhart and pulled him over on a routine traffic stop near a drugstore. Two LAPD patrol officers, who were in the area at the time, assisted Lalezary with detaining him.

According to a witness, Burkhart told officers: “I hate America.”

According to a witness, as Burkhart was stepping out of the van, he told officers: “I hate America.”

The arson spree began early Friday when 21 cars and small trucks were set ablaze in Hollywood and West Hollywood. Most of the cars were set afire in carports or underground parking structures. Flames ignited nearby homes, including Jim Morrison’s former $1.19 million Hollywood Hills home, which was built in 1922. All of the Friday fires, which began after midnight, occurred within a two-square-mile radius in an area filled with sleeping residents.