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Posted May 23, 2008 EST

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3 Teens Plead Guilty In Dallas Car Arson Spree
Three teenagers have admitted in court to their involvement in a string of car arsons throughout Oak Cliff earlier this year. Authorities said arsonists set more than two dozen car fires in February and March. Officials have said they believe the teenagers are responsible for setting a majority of them.

After pleading guilty this week, all three boys, ages 14 to 16, were sentenced to the Texas Youth Commission. They could remain there until their 19th birthdays unless they are released on parole sooner, said Randy Wadley, the assistant director for the Dallas County Juvenile Department.

A fourth boy, who was later arrested in connection with the fires, still is awaiting trial.

Police did not release the boys' names because of their age.

"This was such a blatant attempt at juvenile vandalism that we took a stand and said we are going to solve this. And we did," said Dallas Assistant Fire Chief J.C. Adams, who heads the department's fire and arson investigation division. He added that the arrests were possible because of the joint efforts with the Dallas Police Department.

The arson spree started in February. More than 20 vehicles had burned before Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle and Dallas Fire Chief Eddie Burns announced in late March that the case was a top priority. That announcement came hours after a Dallas County deputy constable's marked car was torched in Oak Cliff.

Fire officials dedicated six investigators to work on the case around the clock for two weeks, Chief Adams said. And Dallas police promised to devote a helicopter, part of the gang unit, tactical and off-duty personnel to the effort.

The young suspects were arrested April 6 after police and fire investigators who had them under surveillance said they watched them douse a portable toilet with gasoline and set it on fire. The boys then drove to a Red Bird street and doused a car with gas before setting it ablaze, officials said.

Early on, city officials said the damage estimates topped $87,000. Chief Adams said investigators still are looking at the crimes the three teens admitted to and calculating costs.

Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Dwaine Caraway, whose district was hit several times by the arsonists, said he is satisfied the teens will face some punishment.

"When they do get out and if they haven't learned their lessons and they set fire to one thing, we'll be looking to send them away for a long time," Mr. Caraway said.

The District 4 council member said it is still a priority to compensate the victims, though he did not suggest the city foot the bill.

"It should come from [the suspects'] parents," Mr. Caraway said. "Their parents need to be more aware of what their kids are doing."

But for Senior Pastor Robert Chalk, whose east Oak Cliff church vehicle was burned in March, that's an unlikely proposal.

"I don't believe they have the money to accommodate us," he said of the boys' parents.

Mr. Chalk said he has not heard from anyone regarding restitution for the destroyed Cadillac that the Holy House of Prayer Interpretation congregation used to transport elderly members to services. In the meantime, the church is spending its own money to lease another vehicle, he said.

"We were the victim to a crime," he said. "I don't feel that it should come out of our pocket. I feel the city ought to do something about it."

Written by Dallas Morning News

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