Rio Rancho fire declared arson, multiple persons of interest

Crime

RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – The biggest commercial fire in Rio Rancho’s history is now being classified as arson, and investigators said they have identified multiple persons of interest. 

Investigators issued search warrants this week for someone who said he previously worked at the clubhouse, who reportedly told people he threw gasoline on the clubhouse, left the area, then returned to watch it burn. He also reportedly told people he had previously burglarized the clubhouse.

Investigators said they got warrants for his house, car and phone. A K9 dog detected accelerants inside the house and car, sending his clothing, shoes and car seat fabric to a lab for testing. They are also extracting data from his phone. 

At this point, they are not releasing his name and not calling him an outright suspect. Investigators said they will be issuing as many as eight more warrants for this person and several others by the end of the week after receiving dozens of tips. 

Investigators with the Office of Superintendent of Insurance said the investigation is their number one priority, and they are devoting every resource to it.

“This search warrant is no indication that we are in a fixed direction,” OSI special agent in charge Mark Torres said. “It is just one direction of a multi-faceted investigation, so based on the search warrants, it will help eliminate or identify other individuals.”

Investigators are also conducting a canvas of the neighborhood, looking for photos, videos and surveillance from surrounding homes and gas stations. As for the future of the clubhouse, Mayor Gregg Hull said it is unclear what the owner plans to do.

“We do not have a submitted master plan,” Mayor Hull said. “There is not a submitted development plan that deals with what is happening on the clubhouse property. At this point, we are waiting for the property owner to submit for a demolition permit to clean the site.”

KRQE News 13 reached out to the owner about his plans, but he declined to comment until after Wednesday night’s city council meeting. There will be a discussion at the meeting about the owner’s charitable donation of the golf course to the city, and Mayor Hull said the owner will be asked about the future of the clubhouse.

Investigators said the lab results from the search could come back in a couple of weeks. The golf course was closed for three years before the fire.

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