Investigators say a security guard and his friend are responsible for the fire and sprinkler-system flood at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
26-year old Matthew Luxon and his friend 29-year old Lyle Thompson are now facing charges of negligent arson, conspiracy for the March 10 incident that left the Cultural Center with more than a half-million dollars in damage.
In a news conference Wednesday, state investigators from the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance finally released details about the incident.
Investigators say instead of reporting for duty as normal, Luxon, who’s a state-employed security guard, decided to bring some of his friends to the Cultural Center for some late-night / early-morning partying that ended with a fire.
Investigators say before the fire, Maxon discharged a handgun inside and outside of the building, then rolled and lit fake “doobies” for a SnapChat photo session.
Investigators say the events at the Cultural Center started around 2:30 or 3 a.m. on the 10th, shortly after bars had closed for the night. Luxon, Thompson and another female were together in a group.
“They decided to return to the Hispanic Cultural Center, where they began hanging out in one of the offices, and inadvertently discharged a firearm,” said Mark Torres, the special agent-in-charge for the Office of the New Mexico Superintendent of Insurance.
Torres says Luxon fired his gun inside and office and later into the Bosque.
Shortly after that, investigators say Luxon and Thompson began smoking handmade cigarettes, or “doobies,” said the men told investigators.
“They were actually using weeds that they’d gathered from the balcony, wrapping them in the receipts from the drinks that they’d received at the local bars, and simulating and taking photographs,” said Torres.
“They started Snapchatting this,” said Torres.
Investigators believe the Luxon and Thompson were smoking the so-called “doobies” inside the mechanical room of the building when one of the cigarettes dropped on the floor, sparking a larger fire that eventually set off the sprinkler system.
Once the sprinkler system went off, Luxon got a call from the security company.
“He made the conscious decision to tell them to disregard and that the system would be down for maintenance until 10 AM,” said Mark Torres.
The trio fled the building, leaving the sprinklers running for hours. Investigators say the sprinklers were shut off until about 8 a.m. when the next security guard showed up for his shift.
“There were no indications that the employee charged in this matter was capable of these actions or any history that would have raised concerns,” said Alberto Cuessy, the acting Director of the NHCC.
Since the fire, the Cultural Center has been cleaning up the mess.
“It will be several weeks before the building is back in full operation including our backstage area and staff offices,” said Cuessy.
Both Luxon and Thompson have been charged with negligent arson and conspiracy. Luxon is facing an additional charge of tampering with evidence. Neither men have been arrested at this time.
The woman who was at the Cultural Center is being treated as a witness, as investigators say she was in the bathroom when the fire occurred.
The Wells Fargo and Bank of America Theatres are now open. The Albuquerque Journal Theatre is still being assessed for damages as the stage was affected.
The new estimated damage cost is around a half-million dollars. Initial estimates had listed a higher amount, however, crews say restoration crews made significant efforts in salvaging the waterlogged elements in the building.