Man accused of setting Van Buren Co. business on fire faces judge
VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A man accused of setting a Van Buren County business on fire, and then kicking his way out of a police cruiser faced a judge Wednesday.
According to police, Dominick Wheeler claims he was hungry and needed money buy food to feed some kids.
So he admitted to breaking into the laundromat to steal money, but denied starting the fire Saturday.
But police aren't buying his story, pointing to surveillance video taken inside the laundromat the night of the fire.
Surveillance video shows Dominick Wheeler used a fire extinguisher to break into the laundromat.
He heads into a back room where police say he stole cash and the owner's lunch.
When he walks back into view of the camera, Wheeler rips a candy machine off its post and slams it against the wall.
He continues to destroy the vending machines and pick up change until police arrive on scene--their lights seen flashing into the windows.
When officers enter the building, you can see smoke start to come from the back room of the laundromat--still on the other side of the building, Wheeler can be heard crying.
He was handcuffed and arrested, but the 21-year-old kicked out the cage in the back of the police car, and ran off.
"I mean I've got really nowhere to go; that's why I didn't run when I got out of the cruiser," Wheeler said.
When asked how he escaped, police say Wheeler replied: "very carefully."
"He kind of didn't read me his rights and left me in an unlocked to walk away. Didn't tell me I was being arrested or detained, nothing, he just sat me in the car and walked away so I just..." Wheeler trailed off.
"So, you escaped, right?" the judge asked.
But Bangor Police Chief Tommy Simpson says Wheeler couldn't stay off his phone or social media, and that led the state police fugitive team to an apartment in Allegan County.
The three day manhunt ended there--Wheeler was recaptured at a friend's place Tuesday.
"Well, Mr. Wheeler, I feel that you are an escape risk; you're a danger to society because of the breaking and entering and the arson charge in this matter," the judge told Wheeler Wednesday.
When the judge set bond at $500,000, Wheeler turned around--his back facing the camera for the rest of the arraignment.
Again, Wheeler told police he broke in to the laundromat, but claims he did not start the fire.
Right now, the Michigan State Fire Marshal is trying to figure out how that fire started.
The damage was so severe that police believe the building is a total loss.