A man who allegedly started a string of fires at three meetinghouses for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in St. George is in custody Tuesday after he crashed his car in Zion National Park, officials say.
The man was attempting to evade police before his car went off the road at Canyon Junction bridge around 4:57 a.m. Tuesday, according to police.
Authorities say the St. George Fire Department first received a fire alarm call from a church at 1295 S. and 3000 East around 4 a.m. Moments later, another fire was reported at another church close by at River Road and Rustic Drive, where a tree was set ablaze.
Police officers checked other churches in the area and saw smoke pouring from the building at 1762 South River Road. An officer saw a silver minivan in the parking lot and a man exiting a church. The man sped off, according to police.
St. George Police Department officers laid spikes down in Hurricane and Springdale as the man headed north on Interstate 15. The spikes punctured his tires and the van crashed and caught on fire in Zion National Park shortly afterward. He was taken into custody.
The crash resulted in minor injuries, and the man was treated at St. George Regional Hospital.
Police said the church at 3000 East did not have a sprinkler system and was heavily damaged. The church at 1762 River Road sustained fire and water damage and the church at Rustic Drive and River Road sustained fire damage to the landscaping.
Investigators are trying to determine if any other churches were also vandalized.
A spokesperson for the St. George City Police Department said the man who allegedly started the fires used to live close to the church at 1295 South and 3000 East but his current residence is in Arizona.
The LDS Church released the following statement:
“We are saddened by the intentional damage that has occurred at three of our meetinghouses in St. George. Our church buildings are places of worship and community gathering where all are welcome. We’re fully cooperating with authorities as they conduct their investigation and inquiries about these incidents should be directed to them.”
Police asked anyone with further information to contact the St. George Police Department at 435-627-4338.