Several cell towers intentionally damaged, man facing federal charge, ATF says
JACKSON COUNTY, Miss. (WLOX/Gray News) - Federal agents and local authorities are investigating fires that were reportedly intentionally set at several cell-tower sites earlier this month in south Mississippi.
Manuel Alejandro DeJesus is believed to have set fire to at least three cell towers in the Jackson County area where destruction of the towers was attempted with the sites suffering damage, according to Agent Jason Denham of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Gulfport office.
WLOX reports DeJesus is currently not facing charges in all of the incidents but he is facing a federal charge stemming from a fire that occurred at a tower in Moss Point, a city near the Mississippi-Alabama border.
The Moss Point Fire Department reports it responded to a call at around 9:30 a.m. on March 2 about a possible transformer fire behind a Comfort Inn and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store located on Highway 63, according to an affidavit filed Tuesday in the U.S. Southern District Court in Gulfport.
Fire crews said they discovered that it wasn’t a transformer but instead a generator inside a locked cell tower fence that caught fire.
A further investigation revealed that someone had pulled the power meters and threw them over the fence, removed parts from the generator and intentionally cut numerous wires, the affidavit stated. Several bottles with rags were also found at different locations throughout the scene.
ATF agents from the Gulfport office, the FBI, and representatives with the wireless and utility companies responded to the fire scene.
On March 8, with the assistance of the Pascagoula Police Department, authorities executed a search warrant on a 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 registered to DeJesus. Several items were reportedly found in the truck, including cable/wire cutters and a GPS device. Police were able to read the device, which shared the truck traveled to the cell site behind the Comfort Inn on March 2.
On March 17, agents were able to obtain surveillance footage from a source near the tower that showed a vehicle matching the truck’s description arriving at the site, according to the affidavit. The video also showed the truck leaving the scene after smoke started to show.
On March 21, a Mississippi Crime Laboratory latent print examiner confirmed a fingerprint found at the fire scene matched that of DeJesus, the affidavit stated.
Among the evidence authorities found in DeJesus’ truck was a sign that read “JW Spy Antenna” with the name “American Tower” written on it. American Tower is the company that owns the tower site and leases it out to different telecommunication companies.
According to the affidavit, a representative of one of those companies told the ATF that they got their wires from an out-of-state source, which makes the site an instrument of interstate commerce, thus resulting in the federal investigation.
A certified fire investigator determined that the fire was intentionally caused and classified it as incendiary.
DeJesus is facing a federal charge because there was an improvised incendiary device used to destroy or attempt to destroy the tower site, according to ATF Agent Denham.
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