Cops: Man used lighter to explore Peerless

A Duluth man told police he had been smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol when he entered the Peerless Auto Body building, then used a lighter to look for cigarettes and money when he accidentally set the fire that destroyed the business early ...

Cars burned in the fire at Peerless Auto were towed from the building and placed in a nearby lot on Dec. 30. (2010 file / News Tribune)

A Duluth man told police he had been smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol when he entered the Peerless Auto Body building, then used a lighter to look for cigarettes and money when he accidentally set the fire that destroyed the business early Monday.

That information was included in a complaint charging Kevin Michael Luick, 25, on Thursday with third-degree burglary, negligent fire, theft of a motor vehicle, felony theft and tampering with a motor vehicle. The first four crimes are felonies; the fifth a misdemeanor.

Firefighters responded to a call at 2:47 a.m. Monday of thick smoke billowing from the 38,000-square-foot, two-story building at 2831 W. Superior St., and it soon was engulfed. Twenty-eight firefighters battled the blaze, with their efforts complicated by frozen hydrants and freezing hand lines. The loss of the structure was estimated at $100,000. Rob Rabold, owner of the business, estimated about 30 vehicles were in the building when the fire started.

According to the criminal complaint:

A police officer responded to a report of the fire and found an abandoned white Honda passenger vehicle blocking First Street at 29th Avenue West. There was front-end damage to the car and the front tires were flat. The keys were in the ignition. The officer spotted Luick a short distance away.


Luick provided a suspicious explanation of why he was in the area and said that he didn't have any identification with him. He consented to a search and the officer found a check from an insurance company made out to Peerless Collision Center in the defendant's back pocket. He was taken into custody.

Two officers interviewed Luick at the St. Louis County Jail. He allegedly said he ran out of cigarettes and didn't have any money, so he went for a walk and spotted a tow truck parked at a garage door of Peerless Auto Body. He said he checked the truck for cigarettes and/or money, but finding neither he hit a garage door opener in the tow truck and the door to the building opened.

He said he checked every car in the building and found some change and cigarettes. He said he also entered offices and other parts of the building looking for items of value. He said it was difficult to get around in the dark building so he used his cigarette lighter to illuminate his way.

Luick said he was inside a black vehicle, using his lighter for illumination when he must have gotten too close to the visor inside the vehicle. Some papers caught fire. He said he extinguished the flames with his hand and that he had put them out.

Police said that he admitted to stealing an air compressor, a laptop computer, an insurance check, money, a bottle of liquor, a watch, a power strip and a Playboy lighter. He put all of the property on the passenger seat of a white Honda and drove away. He said he chose the Honda because it was easiest to drive out of the garage door.

The defendant said he drove the property to his mother's apartment, then drove the car back near the business he stole it from. He then walked back to the apartment where he lives with his mother. He said he couldn't sleep and went for a walk where the police officer spotted him.

Duluth police arson Investigator Todd Kuusisto said Thursday that he and Duluth interim Fire Marshal Marnie Grondahl are still investigating the cause and origin of the fire. Their effort has been hampered because the structure is unsafe to walk through.

Kuusisto said the defendant admitted to investigators Thursday morning that he had stolen another vehicle from the building before he took the white Honda -- a Ford Explorer. The Explorer had been parked at a nearby business before the business asked that it be towed, without knowing it was stolen from the body shop. Kuusisto said the information on the stolen Explorer will be forwarded to the county attorney's office for consideration of further charges.


Wearing a blue jail jumpsuit, Luick politely provided his name and age to Judge John DeSanto and answered basic questions about understanding his rights.

The defendant's mother was in the courtroom. Defense attorney Keith Shaw told the court that Luick has been employed and has attended school but currently is doing neither. Shaw told DeSanto that the defendant has cooperated with police and was talking to them again Thursday morning when the defense attorney advised him to stop talking.

Luick was being held on a warrant for failing to appear for a hearing on a minor theft charge. He told the court that he had agreed to pay the $200 he had stolen, but didn't have the money and he had asked for another court date in an attempt to resolve the matter.

DeSanto set Luick's bail at $7,500 and referred the case to an Arrowhead Regional Corrections probation officer to consider whether the defendant should be given supervised release. His next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 19.

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