Authorities release suspect in SUV arson at West Covina dealership

Associated Press/September 16, 2003

West Covina, Calif. -- A 25-year-old man arrested last week for allegedly starting a fire that caused $1 million in damage to a Hummer dealership was released after authorities said they had insufficient evidence to charge him.

Joshua Thomas Connole, of Pomona, was freed Monday about 4:30 p.m. from the lockup at the West Covina Police Department, said sheriff's Deputy David Cervantes. Connole was arrested at his home Friday by federal agents and initially booked for investigation of felony arson and vandalism.

West Covina police Cpl. Rudy Lopez said the case against Connole, who still remains a suspect, could not be presented to prosecutors within the required 48-hour period.

"Once we put all the evidence together, we will file at a later day," Lopez said. "We still consider him a player in this incident."

Connole maintained his innocence after his release.

"The FBI was doing everything they could to intimidate me," he said, and to make him "confess to something I didn't do."

Fires that broke out Aug. 22 gutted a parts warehouse and destroyed 20 Hummer H2 sport utility vehicles at a West Covina dealership. Another 20 Hummers and several Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs were significantly damaged by fire and spray-painting.

Three other dealerships and at least four privately owned vehicles in the area also were damaged during the vandalism spree.

Words such as "ELF," "Fat, Lazy Americans" and "I (heart) pollution" were painted on the SUVs. "ELF" stands for Earth Liberation Front, a loose association of militant environmentalists. The group, which previously has taken responsibility for other acts of arson and vandalism, claimed in an unsigned e-mail that the SUV fires were "ELF actions."

After the arson and vandalism spree, the FBI released surveillance video from a Ford dealership in Duarte that showed two young men spray-painting SUVS.

Connole, who is a member of a solar-powered cooperative home dedicated to peace and environmentalism, said he has seen the video and denied involvement in the vandalism.

"How can anyone think that was me?" he asked, referring to one young man seen in the video. "The guy had Nike shoes on. I would never wear Nike shoes."

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