A beer can abandoned at a home that had been burglarized and set afire proved to be the break in a series of burglary-arsons that had stumped Santa Rosa police and Sonoma County sheriff's detectives for months.
The "tall boy" beer can in a paper bag prompted detectives to match surveillance footage with local ex-cons' criminal histories, and that led them to a 49-year-old parolee.
On Tuesday, police arrested Andy Ruben Navarro at the Coffey Meadows Place garage where he was living after finding what they described as a trove of stolen belongings, Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Mike Raasch said.
He was booked into the Sonoma County Jail without bail on suspicion of three counts of residential burglary, three counts of arson, possession of stolen property and being a felon in possession of firearms and ammunition, Raasch said.
Navarro is suspected of ransacking and setting fire to three homes, including the just-remodeled Banyan Place house of Calvin Sanders and his wife, Melissa Haney.
Their home and most of their belongings were destroyed in the May 19 fire, just days before their wedding.
News of the arrest brought up "a lot of anger, a lot of emotions, said Sanders. "It's a good thing, but it's just kind of a lot," said Sanders, reached by phone. "I think we might sleep a bit better."
Detectives brought the couple and two other families to the garage late Tuesday to see if any of their belongings were there, Sanders said.
Although they could only view the items from afar, Sanders said they spotted a box where they kept prized mementos, the "kind of belongings you cannot replace," Sanders said.
"The whole thing was packed with stuff," Sanders said.
The crimes began April 20 with a fire at a Hopper Avenue home. The home sustained major damage and fire investigators only later realized the place had been ransacked.
The next fire came May 1 when Sanders and Haney came home to find their Banyan Place home on fire.
Santa Rosa police detectives began investigating those cases amid a string of burglaries in the neighborhood north of Piner Road.
Then on July 10, a woman returned to her home on Fulton Road south of River Road to find smoke pouring from the broken front door. Jewelry, a laptop computer and other small items were missing.
At that point, police and sheriff's detectives dropped all other cases to pool their efforts.
"We took this very seriously after this happened, had all the detectives drop their other cases because the potential of something violent happening is very great," Raasch said.
The woman on Fulton Road noted that the beer can was out of place in her home, and detectives guessed that a person would buy it somewhere nearby before committing the burglary, Raasch said.
A convenience store at Fulton and River roads gave them surveillance footage taped that day. Detectives spotted a man buying a similar beer in a bag, who was seen leaving on a bike southbound on Fulton Road, Raasch said.
A crime analyst noted that Navarro lived in the area and was on parole for an assault-with-a-deadly-weapon case but also had a history of arrests for theft and burglary, Raasch said.
Photos of him on file identified him as the man on the surveillance tape, Raasch said.