Tenderloin arson suspect looked dazed during fire

A 64-year-old man suspected of lighting his Tenderloin apartment on fire told a neighbor, “It looks like something out of a movie” while he watched it burn Sunday morning.

The inferno started in Paul Williams’ apartment — No. 6 at 550 Leavenworth St., not No. 7 as previously reported — around
8:30 a.m. and quickly burst through the window and ripped through nine other units in the 26-unit complex. The nearly century-old building was still uninhabitable Monday.

Police estimate the fire caused about $850,000 in damage to the four-story building.

Williams was handcuffed within an hour because “after making contact with him it was determined he started the fire,” police Officer Albie Esparza said. He was charged with arson and possession of “an ignited source,” which Esparza said could be two rocks or a lighter, among other things.

Williams is scheduled to be arraigned at 9 a.m. today.

Neighbor Matt Fondacaro, who lived in unit No. 7, said he saw Williams kneeling outside his door when everyone else was running for the stairs.

“He just stayed there and I left,” Fondacaro said. “Then outside, he came up behind me and I looked at him like, ‘Hey, dude, what’s happening?’ And he said, ‘It’s like something out of a movie.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He was not responsive.”

Other residents in the building said they watched Williams sit at the bus stop at the corner in a daze right after he walked out of the burning building. They described him as a quiet neighbor who normally kept to himself.

It took more than 60 firefighters about an hour to contain the flames that had been burning for about 10 minutes before they arrived. Meanwhile, dozens of residents and surrounding neighbors — many in their pajamas — stood on the sidewalk gazing up at the glow.

Police and fire officials have not revealed how the fire started or what the motive was.

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

ArsonBay Area NewsLocalneighborhoodsTenderloin

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Police seized ghost guns and other firearm manufacturing items while executing a warrant in February (Courtesy SFPD)
Ghost guns linked to rise in SF shootings as numbers jump

San Francisco police are seizing an increasingly alarming number of untraceable firearms,… Continue reading

San Francisco Giants pitcher Gregory Santos (78) makes his major league debut against the Marlins in the 6th inning at Oracle Park on April 22, 2021 in San Francisco, California. (Photography by Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner).
Giants post fifth shutout of 2021, all caught by Casali

After going the entirety of 2020 without shutting out an opponent, the… Continue reading

Shock G of Digital Underground performs during the BET Hip Hop Awards '10 at Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center on October 2, 2010, in Atlanta. (Taylor Hill/Getty Images/TNS)
Rapper Shock G of Digital Underground found dead in Tampa

Rapper Shock G, who was famous for the hit single “The Humpty… Continue reading

Students walk around campus near the Cesar Chavez Student Center at San Francisco State University. (Steven Ho/Special to S.F. Examiner)
California’s massive UC and Cal State systems plan to require COVID-19 vaccinations this fall

Nina Agrawal, Teresa Watanabe, Colleen Shalby Los Angeles Times The University of… Continue reading

From left, Esther Gulick, Sylvia McLaughlin and Kay Kerr started launched one of the country’s first environmental movements. (Courtesy Save The Bay)
Sixty years of Saving San Francisco Bay

Pioneering environmental group was started by three ladies on a mission

Most Read