A “Big Bag of Crazy” Found in Suspected Arson Case
On the night of Sept. 8, a staff member at San Angelo LIVE! went downtown to the Old Texas Theatre where San Angelo police had responded to a call about an individual on the roof of a neighboring building. As our staff member talked to one of the officers, a silver car with a man and woman pulled up and the female driver told the official, “There’s a car on fire! It’s going to explode, so you better get going!”
This fire was in the parking lot at 210 S. Chadbourne St.
With that warning, the officer called in the fire to SAPD Dispatch, and within moments, police units and a fire truck arrived at the scene in the parking lot next to the Dead Horse. Our staff member followed. However, by the time they arrived, a bystander had managed to put out the fire.
As officials began their investigation into how the fire started, they noticed something on the ground near the vehicle, a 2008 Volkswagen Jetta.
“There was a white cloth on the ground near the tank,” said the staff member.
Additionally, the driver of the car, a young woman, was crying and said, “This is the second time “that [expletive]” has done this!”
Apparently, the suspect was an ex-girlfriend of a man the woman with the VW was "seeing," and the current girlfriend thought that the suspect not only burned her vehicle twice, but she also slashed her VW's tires repeatedly.
Based on the complaint, testimony from the victim, witness, officers at the scene, video footage, and the investigations conducted by the Fire Marshal and Tom Green County Sheriff’s offices, this act of arson appears to be a conclusive crime of passion.
The Evidence at the Scene
At the scene, investigators did find the evidence that indicated arson played a role in the car fire, and on Sept. 11, 2015, Karla Steppe, an investigator with the San Angelo Fire Marshal’s department, filed an official complaint with the Tom Green County Justice of the Peace against Chelsea Jo Strube, 32, of San Angelo.
According to the complaint, Steppe had “good reason to believe and does believe and charge that Chelsea Jo Strube, Defendant, intentionally and knowingly [started] a fire by placing a white fabric into the gas tank along with a green plastic bottle containing a flammable liquid at a motor vehicle and igniting the flammable liquid with intent to damage and destroy a vehicle.”
Additionally, the complaint verified that the Jetta had a broken gas tank cover and burnt paint down the side of the vehicle below the gas tank.
“A piece of green melted plastic that resembled a plastic soda bottle was melted into the pavement of the parking lot next to the vehicle and a white piece of cloth with burned edges that appeared to have been remnant of a white T-shirt,” read the complaint. Also, the front passenger tire had been cut in “multiple locations,” and the tire was flat.
Another officer at the scene, Clinton Roebuck, observed smoke coming from inside the gas tank area upon his arrival, and he saw a flame directly underneath the gas tank of the vehicle. The smoke appeared to come from a “white rag” stuffed inside the gas tank. Officer Roebuck also observed the slashed front passenger tire.
The Witness Timeline
In his statement, the witness, who originally notified the officers about the fire, told Steppe he and his girlfriend were attending a birthday party at the Dead Horse, and he pulled into the parking lot at 11:45 p.m.
As he drove around looking for a parking spot, the witness noticed an area next to the building between the victim’s Volkswagen and another SUV. That’s when he saw the vehicle fire and sparks falling onto the ground. He too perceived a piece of a white T-shirt, but it was in the gas tank and flames were traveling back towards it.
“The witness immediately backed his vehicle up, started to drive down the alley and saw a 2008-2010 model red Mustang parked about 30-40 yards down the alley with its lights off,” the complaint noted.
As the witness turned into the alley, the red Mustang turned on its lights, left in a hurry and turned right on Twohig. At that point, he notified the police officials nearby.
“The way the red Mustang was parked in the alley appeared suspicious to [the witness],” stated the complaint. “When [he] walked back to the parking lot where the vehicle had been on fire, he overheard people talking about a red Mustang.”
The Possible Diversion
At approximately 10:14 p.m., Strube was the witness who reported to police the individual on the roof east of the Texas Theatre, which was the call police officials and our LIVE! staff member had responded. It was while there that another the witness drove up and notified them of the fire.
Strube told SAPD Sgt. Clay Wieting that she was in the parking garage next to 25 W. Beauregard when she observed this individual. However, officials never found anyone on or near the theatre.
“The Defendant stayed in the area and spoke with Officer Walston and Sgt. Wieting and was identified by Officer Walston,” said the complaint.
Strube was also in contact with Public Safety Communications to advise police officers of updates. Sgt. Wieting observed that Strube drove a red Ford Mustang and spoke with her. When she left the scene, Strube drove east on Twohig and was last seen at the intersection of E. Twohig and S. Chadbourne, near the Dead Horse.
The security camera footage obtained from the O.C. Fisher Federal Building U.S. Courthouse, 33 E. Twohig, showed a vehicle, which appeared to be a later model Ford Mustang, turning east onto Twohig from the alley behind the Dead Horse at approximately 11:50 p.m. However, the time stamp on the video showed 11:56 p.m. Court Security Officer Harvey Barrera stated that the time stamp is approximately 6 minutes fast.
This was around the same time the witness reported seeing the Mustang in that same area.
The “Big Bag of Crazy”
When deputies with the Tom Green County Sheriff’s office and Steppe went to Strube’s residence in San Angelo, they identified her red Mustang in the garage. Strube told officials the Mustang did belong to her and gave them permission to search it.
During the search, the complaint said Steppe spotted items of interest.
“[Steppe] located a white canvas bag with the words ‘big bag of crazy,’ and inside the bag in the back passenger seat were miscellaneous items,” stated the complaint.
These items included the following:
- two large bags of Duraflame kitchen matches;
- one small matchbook of matches;
- one plastic white and purple glove;
- one kitchen knife with a serrated blade;
- one kitchen paring knife;
- one pair of Kobalt wire cutters;
- one garden tool with a stainless steel blade and a blue and white handle;
- and one flat screwdriver with a black and red handle.
The investigators also found a matching white and purple glove, latex gloves and a pair of wire cutters in the Mustang's passenger floor board. Additionally, Steppe located “a white lighted” in the drink holder in between the front driver and passenger seats; and inside the center console, Steppe found an orange Husky utility knife and black and pink lighters.
The complaint noted that “the items located in the red Ford Mustang would be items consistent with the damages observed on the victim’s vehicle.”
Since the original incident, San Angelo LIVE! has attempted to get comments from Steppe and the Fire Marshal’s Department; however, Fire Marshal Ross Coleman said they have no comment at this time due to the pending investigation and justice proceedings.
Note: The parking lot referenced in this story is owned by Trimble-Batjer Insurance.
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