Mansion Fire Leaves Burning Questions

Who was that guy in the cargo pants? And why wasn't he stopped?

The charred remains of the second floor balcony of the Governor's Mansion
The charred remains of the second floor balcony of the Governor's Mansion (Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office)

In the investigation of the Governor's Man­sion fire, there are more questions than answers. About the only certainty: The fire was the result of arson.

What isn't known: Who did it? Why? How could it have happened? Who is to blame for the security lapse?

And then there's the "uncertain but optimistic" light at the end of the tunnel: Contractors working for the state do believe the mansion can be restored.

"We are concluding the investigation of the on-site premise," said state Fire Marshal Paul Maldonado on June 12. "We'll be transitioning the property back over to the state, and we will no longer be present here to conduct investigations on the site. However, we will continue to do the investigation as a criminal investigation; we will continue to do follow-ups on all leads we have; we will continue to do interviews; we will continue to analyze all the data, all the information, all evidence we have.

"We do have an arson crime that has been committed at the Governor's Mansion," Mal­do­na­do said. "We do have evidence on video of an individual lighting a material, throwing it; it lands on the porch of the Governor's Man­sion, and the fire spreads very rapidly. The video is still being enhanced, and for that reason, we are not going to release it at this time. It's still evidence, and we are still reviewing, studying, and analyzing the video. And we do have other leads." Maldonado is being assisted by the Department of Public Safety, the Texas Rangers, the FBI, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Maldonado did say that the video shows a white male, between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet 1 inch tall, wearing a ball cap, dark shirt, work gloves, jeans or cargo pants, and dark footwear. The suspect is likely in his 20s. The state is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arsonist's arrest. People with information should call 800/252-TIPS (8477).

Maldonado said Monday that a hypothesis has been developed that the fire was a political act, although he admits that is mostly speculation. Working that angle, he addressed the arsonist directly: "We do feel that you have a message, and we would like to hear from you," he said. "We are not quite sure what that message is. But please contact us."

Something that isn't being addressed, at least not publicly: Why was a lone DPS trooper left to guard the 152-year-old state treasure that night – especially considering that a couple of security cameras at the front of the mansion were reportedly not functioning? That question is met with stony silence: "We don't comment on security," is all that DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange would tell us. However, Austin lawyer Don Dickson, who represents the Texas State Troopers Association, has told more than one news source that it was customary for two troopers to be guarding the property. And according to the Houston Chronicle, state troopers have said that the mansion's infrared-detection alarm system broke down earlier this spring, and DPS higher-ups ignored the security threat this posed.

Another source familiar with the investigation told The Austin Chronicle, "The DPS really screwed the pooch on this one."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Governor's Mansion, Department of Public Safety, Paul Maldonado

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