I-Team: Arson cases often go unsolved

Crime can be difficult to prove

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. - Arson can be one of the toughest crimes for investigators to prove. In fact, the majority of arson cases go unsolved.

In April of 2010, a beautiful, million-dollar Lutz home burned to the ground.

Investigators said right away they suspected arson. But more than 3 years later, no arrest has been made and the investigation remains open.

Erin Lykins and her partner Laurie Burcaw lived in the home. They say they were out of town on vacation that night. When they received the call and returned home, the house was destroyed.

"There wasn't anything left. There was nothing to go through," Lykins said.

Two months after the fire, a State Fire Marshal investigator said in court the prime suspect was Lykins' ex-boyfriend, Joey Cruz. The accusation happened during Cruz' trial on unrelated charges.

Cruz declined to answer our questions on-camera, but he called the accusations against him "a complete fabrication". In an e-mailed response, he said, "I am truly sorry that her and her family have gone through this experience, but I assure you, I had absolutely nothing to do with the fire."

The Lutz fire is part of the 12% of fires in Florida that are either listed as "undetermined cause" or "under investigation", according to statistics from the State Fire Marshal's Office.

Captain Tammy White of the Fire Marshal's Office won't discuss the Lutz fire, because it's still under investigation. But she said solving arson cases can be difficult.

"Fire certainly can destroy a lot of evidence in a crime scene," Capt. White said.

But she also says even a house completely burned to the ground leaves evidence behind. In Florida, the State Fire Marshal's Office says they solve 31% of arson cases. That's higher than the national average of 18%. But it still means the majority of arson cases go unsolved.

"It's true, we're not perfect. There are times where the evidence leads us in a direction that maybe causes us to miss the fact that it is arson," Capt. White says.

As for the fire that destroyed Laurie Burcaw's home, the statute of limitations for an arson charge expires in 5 months. Burcaw and Lykins worry they will never see the perpetrator arrested.

"The more people understand they can get away with it, they're just going to do it," Burcaw said.

The answers may come soon. The detective in charge of the investigation tells us they are close to finishing their investigation.

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