by MOSES LEOS III
BUDA — A man suspected in the arson of a vehicle at the Texas state capitol earlier this month has also been identified as the main suspect in the arson of a Buda Police cruiser.According to Buda Police Chief Bo Kidd, authorities have identified Michael Patrick Wagner, 38, of Iowa, as the person authorities believe intentionally set fire to a 2014 Buda Police Dodge Charger on Aug. 10.
Wagner, who was arrested on Aug. 12 on a theft charge in Marion, Iowa, is currently being held in the Lynn County Jail in Iowa and is awaiting extradition to Texas.
Texas Rangers currently have an arrest warrant for Wagner for a second-degree felony arson charge, which stems from an Aug. 7 incident in which Wagner allegedly set a vehicle on fire at the state capitol.
The Buda Police Department is awaiting Wagner’s extradition before presenting a warrant on felony arson charges.
At about 12:33 a.m. Aug. 10, Buda police officers received notification from the Hays County Communication Center that a police vehicle was on fire in the department’s parking lot. Kidd said all officers on duty that evening were on call and were not at headquarters when the incident occurred. The fire completely destroyed the Charger, which Kidd estimates to be valued around $50,000.
After examining the department’s external video surveillance system, authorities determined the vehicle fire had been started intentionally. Buda Police along with the Buda Fire Marshal’s office began the investigation. It has since involved the Texas Rangers, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Wagner was tied to the case through several factors. One of those included matching the vehicle Texas Rangers had sought in their investigation – a 2013 Chevrolet Cruze – to the vehicle driven into the Buda Police parking lot by the alleged arsonist.
Texas Rangers gained a break in the case after finding a parking ticket had been given at the Capitol on a vehicle driver by their suspect. Texas Rangers traced information from the ticket to Wagner, who was the registered owner of the Cruze.
Buda Police further examined video footage and generated still images of the suspect, after authorities discovered the suspect had been in the Buda Police parking lot at around 10 p.m. on Aug. 9. Kidd believed Wagner was scoping out the area, and that it was normal for “someone in his position” to do so.
“They know what they’re going to do and what they’re after,” Kidd said. “We didn’t believe that wasn’t the only time he was in our parking lot. That’s why we had police officers look even further.”
Authorities also discovered that Wagner had been staying in a Buda area hotel, though the name of the hotel has not been released. Hotel staff told authorities that Wagner had been staying in Buda a week prior to the incident and that he had stayed a “few times in the past,” according to Kidd.
From that point, Buda Police and the Texas Rangers began to share information. Authorities matched Wagner based on his looks and physical description, along with the way he walked.
In addition, Kidd said Wagner wore similar clothing to what the suspect in the capitol incident was wearing. Still shots of the suspect show the suspect wearing a similar ball cap, t-shirt and sandals the Capitol fire suspect wore.
Police further identified his clothing based off of surveillance camera footage from other locations in Buda.
Several primary questions remain unanswered, such as Wagner’s motive for starting the fire, the accelerant used and why he chose Buda.
According to Kidd, there is no record of any Buda police officers dealing with Wagner, nor is Wagner in the department’s data base.
“It’s not to say we haven’t had contact with him,” Kidd said. “But not one of my people can recall him. I can’t link him to this department.”
Kidd said the investigation is ongoing and that there still is “a lot of work to do.” That includes the return of forensic analysis of the vehicles from the ATF and enhancement of video surveillance footage.
He estimated the investigation into the Buda case could continue for “several weeks, if not months.”
While he wouldn’t speculate to what could have started the blaze, authorities believed the method of operations was the same in both incidents.
“I can say that in looking in both arsons, which we’re sharing all information with the Texas Rangers and vice versa…everything seems to be the same in both arsons,” Kidd said. “They’re the same method of operation in both.”
Kidd lauded the assistance of outside entities, including the ATF, which he said has been a “tremendous help in this investigation.”
“We’re confident we have our suspect. Not that this closes our investigation by any means,” Kidd said. “There is still a lot of work to do. Based on what we know now, we’ve got our guy.”
MOSES LEOS III reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.