James Anthony Lawlor Charged in Tent Fire with Homeless Pair Inside

A Santa Ana man was charged Tuesday with arson and attempted murder for a tent fire that was deliberately set with a homeless man and woman inside.

James Anthony Lawlor faces felony counts of attempted murder, arson of inhabited property, possession of flammable material as well as sentencing enhancements for premeditation and arson with an accelerant.

If convicted, the 35-year-old could be sent to state prison for seven years to life, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office, which added Lawlor’s arraignment was set for next Tuesday in Santa Ana.

This is a drawing of the suspect supplied by a victim.
SAPD booking photo of Lawlor

The homeless pair lived in a tent in a vacant lot in the 1300 block of West Tolliver Avenue that is next to residences and near Lawlor’s home. Around 8:20 a.m. on Jan. 19, a man wearing black slacks and a black coat approached the tent with the pair inside and said they had 15 minutes to leave or he would return with his Glock handgun, according to the Santa Ana Police Department.

The male transient poked his head outside the tent to talk to the stranger, who then kicked the victim twice in the head before getting into his newer black truck and driving away westbound on Tolliver, police say. But the same man returned to the tent about five minutes later with a red gasoline can, from which he poured gas on the tent that was lit it on fire while the occupants were inside, report police, who add the attacker next got into the truck and drove away southbound on Bristol Street.

The homeless pair escaped the tent to safety, although the male had sustained minor burns and injuries from being kicked in the head, according to police.

Investigators from Santa Ana PD and the Orange County Fire Authority launched a probe that uncovered the truck that was possibly used in the crime. It was reportedly still parked in the area.

Police say that led them to Lawlor, who was positively identified by the victim and arrested Thursday morning outside his residence.

Lawlor was questioned at the police station and held on suspicion of attempted murder, arson/property, arson of inhabited structure/property, possession/manufacturing/disposal of material/device for arson, threatening crime with intent to terrorize and assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury.

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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