Man set co-op fire over fees, neighbors say

A North Beach co-op resident upset over maintenance and fees tried to burn the building down and shot at two other men trying to stop him, police said.


Article Courtesy of the Miami Herald

Posted 01-09-2005

A feud between a co-op association and a resident at a North Beach co-op building took a dramatic turn early on New Year's Day when the man attempted to set the building on fire, police said.

The man, Mario Lara, 63, was also carrying a gun and shot at two men who attempted to stop him, according to the Miami Beach police report.

According to the report:

The two men, Roy Roche and Steve Pickett, saw Lara leave the two-story building, located on the 400 block of 80th Street, about 4 a.m. carrying a can of gasoline, which he used to douse the back wall and set it on fire.

When they yelled at Lara to stop, he pulled a .22-caliber revolver and shot twice at them. Pickett and Roche ran inside, hid in an apartment and called police.

When police arrived, Lara surrendered, according to the police report.

''Officer, I did it . . . I am turning myself in to you,'' he is quoted as saying. ``The gun is in my left pocket. I did this because they want to take my apartment from me.''

The fire department managed to extinguish the blaze before it spread to the rest of the building, though an unknown amount of damage was done.

Lara, who had facial burns and singed hair, was arrested and charged with arson and attempted murder.

Residents say the dispute between Lara and the co-op association sprouted from disagreements over maintenance to the building and a rise in building fees. Liens had been placed on several apartments after higher fees were implemented, said unit owner Elena Felix.

Members of the co-op board declined to comment.

Felix said she sympathized with Lara. ''One year ago, they doubled the maintenance, and thank God I can pay, but other people can't,'' she said. ``I'm sure they drove him crazy and he just went berserk.''