The man who allegedly set a fire that destroyed an office building was “obsessed” with a woman who owned a massage business in the office building. And a second woman who owned another massage business in the building had a stalking injunction against him.
Alex Kentish Tuita, 37, of West Valley City, was charged in 3rd District Court with three counts of aggravated arson, first-degree felonies; and two counts of stalking, second degree felonies. According to the charges, on June 13 at 2 a.m., he poured gasoline on the side of the office building and set it ablaze.
Firefighters were called to Ashton Offices, a three-story building at 1104 E. Ashton Ave., and found the structure engulfed in flames. The three-alarm fire spread to a single-family home to the southwest of the office building, destroying it, and heavily damaged a duplex to the east.
In a probable cause statement, investigators wrote that a woman who owned a massage business in the office building said that Tuita — a former client she had banned from her business — has been stalking her. She said he called and texted her “inappropriate things”; created a fake Instagram profile of her; and challenged her fiance to a fight.
According to the statement, “When confronted, Tuita admitted to creating the profile because he was ‘obsessed’ with” the business owner, who was “in the process of seeking a civil stalking injunction against Tuita when the fire occurred.”
A second woman who owned a second massage business in Ashton Offices had obtained a civil stalking injunction against Tuita in 2018. It remains in effect through Dec. 10.
When fire investigators went to Tuita’s home to question him, he “admitted ... that he started the fire.” Later, investigators wrote, he told them he drove to the office building, ran up to it, poured a jar of gas on it, used a lighter to ignite it and ran back to his car “without looking back.” He admitted he saw lights in the adjacent homes “but he was not concerned about whether people could be hurt,” according to investigators. He also admitted he “crossed boundaries” by contacting the first woman.
According to firefighters, the office building was a total loss – the fire caused about $1.75 million in damage to the structure alone, and there’s no estimate for the losses suffered by the approximately 25 businesses that had offices there.
The single family home suffered “catastrophic damage and structural collapse” and was also a total loss. The duplex suffered smoke, water and heat damage and was rendered uninhabitable. There’s no estimate of the monetary damage to those two structures.
The office building and the single-family home were unoccupied at the time of the fire. Two families and a total of six people — including an infant and a toddler — were at home in the duplex. The residents were able to escape without injury after being roused by strangers.
Tuita was booked into the Salt Lake County jail, where he is being held without bail.