INIANAPOLIS — IFD investigators calculate that when a panhandler set fire to a dumpster outside the Omni Hotel downtown over the weekend, the flames resulted in a $600,000 in property loss.

”The witnesses reported that the dumpster was on fire and it traveled up into a foot bridge that led over to the mall and also got into the outside of the Omni,” said IFD Commander Vernon Garard. ”So ordinary combustibles were in the dumpster, debris, trash, things of that nature. The suspect actually had something in his hand that was lit and threw it into the dumpster.”

An IMPD patrol officer spotted Erik Breece, 53, hustling change nearby an hour before the fire and his appearance matched the man captured on surveillance video setting the flames.

”Firefighters were on the scene within five minutes or so and by that time the fire had extended into bridge and also the building,” said Garard, who added that 457 hotel guests were evacuated.

In the IMPD report, Breece is listed as having no permanent address.

Similarly, a woman who claimed she was trying to get attention because the father of her child wouldn’t let her see her son was taken into custody after allegedly setting fire to a dumpster outside the Needler’s supermarket in the 300 block of North New Jersey Street just a couple days later and attempted to explode the blaze by tossing a propane tank into the flames.

”There’s an investigator right now investigating that case,” said Garard. ”There actually was an IMPD detective, we’re a combination unit at this point with fire and IMPD, and we work together, so, when we respond as fire investigators, we also have an IMPD arson detective with us.”

Garard has this advice for business owners with outside dumpsters.

”I would recommend a steel dumpster with a lock,” he said. “There are plastic dumpsters out there. That would not be my recommendation to a business to have a plastic dumpster.”

While IMPD maintains the downtown district is one of the safest areas in Indianapolis, over this past weekend officers apprehended a woman who claimed voices inside her head told her to slash the tires on 13 vehicles on East Washington Street. A man was murdered July 20th near the American Legion Mall by a suspect who claimed he was a judge and had recently smoked meth and a clerk at a store on Monument Circle was assaulted by shoplifting teens in June just a few days after police arrest a man walking down Washington Street threatening people with a hammer.

University Park has been the site of a murder in May of 2022 and several other assaults and drug overdoses, typically associated with unregulated open air feedings that occur three times a week.

This spring, a woman claimed she was raped inside a portable restroom located in the 200 block of North Alabama Street on the site of a city-designated open air feeding location at the parking lot of the former city hall.