A Maryland man was charged Saturday with arson and destruction of property a day after police said he crashed a Jeep into the lobby of a downtown Washington office building, touching off fears of a potential terrorist attack.
The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force was called to the scene Friday evening, but D.C. police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Saturday that indications were that the driver’s “motive was not a terrorist motive.”
Charles Morrell Ball, 32, of Frederick County was charged with three felonies — arson, destruction of property and unauthorized use of a vehicle — police spokeswoman Tisha Gant said.
Lanier said it appeared that the driver had acted alone.
The sport-utility vehicle had been doused with gasoline before it crashed into the Washington Square building steps from the Farragut North Metro station on the southwest corner of Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW at about 7:30 p.m. At least one gasoline container was taken from the red Jeep Liberty, which police said had been stolen.
A law enforcement official not authorized to speak about the suspect’s condition said that Ball has “mental-health issues.”
A woman who answered the phone at Ball’s last known address, in New Market, hung up after a reporter identified himself.
Ball is listed in the Maryland registry of sex offenders, according to records from the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Court records say he was convicted in 2008 in Carroll County Circuit Court of a third-degree sexual offense and that he had been complying with reporting requirements.
The court records indicate that Ball also was convicted of three other charges since 2006 — two thefts and an assault.
Ball was taken to a hospital for evaluation and was released into police custody, Lanier said. She said Ball gave “a good debrief” to investigators after his arrest.
There was no report of any other injuries.
Lanier said it was “miraculous” that the SUV didn’t hit any bystanders. “I think we’re extremely fortunate that no one was hurt in there last night,” she said. “We’re very lucky.”
As the SUV crashed through plate glass at street level, people were dining in the Morton’s steakhouse a floor above. Men’s Wearhouse and Victoria’s Secret shops located steps away had closed less then an hour before.
A woman who was in the restaurant’s bar area said she “felt a crash.”
The woman, law student Maureen Mathis, said someone in her group asked, “Is the building collapsing? Should we try to get out?”
Mathis said a man who appeared to be the driver struggled with building security officers, then with police. Lanier said Ball was trying to light the vehicle on fire when he was apprehended.
The building’s owners, Lerner Enterprises and the Tower Cos., completed a $14 million renovation last year that included full-height Pilkington glass around the interior atrium as well as Botticino marble accents and a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture.
By Saturday afternoon, the single pane of Pilkington glass smashed by the SUV had been boarded up. The glass sculpture and the marble appeared unscathed.
Staff writers Martin Weil and Clarence Williams and staff researcher Christopher Lyford contributed to this report.