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Guard Charged In Md. Arsons

Suspect Worked For Security Firm

By Eric Rich and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 17, 2004; Page A01

A security guard for a company hired to protect construction sites at a Charles County subdivision was arrested yesterday and charged with setting fires last week that destroyed 10 unoccupied houses at the development and damaged 16 others.

Aaron L. Speed, 21, was taken into custody by federal agents in Charles County yesterday while undergoing a polygraph test, several law enforcement sources said. Speed, who spent time at the subdivision as a guard for Security Services of America, is scheduled to appear this morning before a magistrate judge at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt to face a charge of arson.

Aaron Speed, 21, being escorted out of the Charles County Sheriff's office in La Plata, Md., by a law enforcement official. Speed was charged with arson in fires Dec. 6 that caused $10 million in damages to homes in Indian Head, Md. (Chris Gardner - AP)

_____Photo Gallery_____
Md. Arson: Ten homes were destroyed and 16 damaged, resulting in an estimated $10 million in destruction to the new subdivision.
Charles County Fires
_____More From The Post_____
U.S. Prosecution Is Likely for Md. Mass Arson Case (The Washington Post, Dec 16, 2004)
Ecology Terrorism Doubted In Arsons (The Washington Post, Dec 15, 2004)
Intensive Legwork Begins in Md. Arson (The Washington Post, Dec 12, 2004)
11 More Houses Were Targeted In Md. Arsons (The Washington Post, Dec 9, 2004)
At Site of Mass Md. Arson, Families Wait and Worry (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
No Motive Found in Charles Arsons (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
Arson Brings Battle Over Bog to Surface (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
Developer Plans to Rebuild Houses (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)
Arson Turns A Dream Into Dread (The Washington Post, Dec 8, 2004)

The law enforcement sources, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said Speed made self-incriminating statements during the polygraph test, prompting authorities to arrest him. They said more arrests are possible.

Speed's arrest followed 10 days of investigation into early-morning fires Dec. 6 that devastated part of the Hunters Brooke subdivision near Indian Head, causing an estimated $10 million in damage. State officials have called the crime the biggest case of residential arson in memory in Maryland.

After initially considering eco-terrorism and racism as possible motives for the arsons, investigators moved away from those theories this week. They declined to say yesterday what might have prompted the arsons.

The law enforcement sources and people familiar with Speed described him as a young man in a downward emotional spiral after a family tragedy last spring.

Speed's mother-in-law, Dolores Jaillet, said in an interview that federal agents who questioned Speed's wife focused much of their attention on the death in April of the couple's 10-week-old son, a twin who succumbed to an illness.

"They were trying to say it was because Aaron was stressed out," Jaillet said, adding that she does not believe he was involved in the arsons. "I can tell you, he's a nice kid," she said.

William M. Burgess, a lawyer and a family friend, met with Speed at the Charles County jail last night and said he was "in good spirits." Speed "may make a statement later," Burgess said, but he had asked that Burgess not comment on the case. "He was just arrested today."

Speed and his wife, Tamara, live in a small house on Copley Avenue in Waldorf with the surviving twin and Tamara's two children from a previous relationship.

According to one law enforcement source, Speed developed hard feelings toward his employer because he did not think the security company was supportive of him after his child died.

A Security Services of America official did not return messages this week seeking a comment on the case, including one left last night.

Speed quit Security Services and took a job in a 7-Eleven, but eventually returned to the company because the pay was better, the source said.

About two months ago, Speed went on a ride-along to a house fire in Prince George's County with the Clinton Volunteer Fire Department, according to Robert Small, the volunteer unit's chief. He said Speed inquired about joining the department and spent a day with the volunteers, responding to a fire in the Crestview Manor neighborhood of Clinton.

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