The man accused of intentionally setting a fire at a music studio in Studio City knew the two men who died in the blaze, and the three had been involved in a dispute hours before the blaze, Los Angeles police said Monday.
Efrem Zimbalist Demery Jr., 28, was arrested on suspicion of murder about 12 hours after firefighters responded to the fire at Top Notch Recordings around 7 a.m. Saturday, April 14, police said.
Firefighters found four people down in the flames at the studio in the 3700 block of Cahuenga Boulevard. Two people remain hospitalized in critical condition with serious burns: a man in his 20s, and a 15-year-old girl.
The victims who remain hospitalized were not associated with the suspect or the men killed, police said.
The two who died on scene were Devaughn Carter, 28, and Michael Pollard, 30, both from Los Angeles. Pollard’s name was released at an LAPD news conference Monday; Carter was identified by the coroner’s office Sunday.
Carter’s mother said said he left behind an 8-year-old son.
“He’s not taking it very well,” she said of the child. “He’s just crying and asking for his dad — you know, where is he and why.”
Both Carter and Pollard knew Demery, and at least one of the victims had been friends with him for several years, Los Angeles Police Department Capt. William Hayes said. Those two victims were Demery’s “intended targets,” he said.
The three had been out together before the fire, and had apparently had some kind of dispute of unknown origin, the captain said. Nonetheless, the motive remains unclear, he said.
The fire was set using an accelerant that’s believed to be gasoline, police said. Investigators think Demery went to a nearby gas station, bought the gasoline and returned to the studio.
He “poured gasoline inside it, ignited it, and then fled out the back of the location,” Hayes said.
The accelerant was poured in a hallway near where the targeted victims were; the two survivors were in a different room, according to the captain.
“The direct nature of going after these individuals is obviously very heinous,” the captain said. “Arson is a brutal crime and a terrible way to die.”
Surveillance video and forensic evidence led police and Los Angeles Fire Department arson investigators to Demery, who was arrested in Willowbrook by a California Highway Patrol officer who spotted him allegedly committing a traffic violation.
Demery has prior arrests for burglary and selling counterfeit goods, police said. It’s not clear if he has convictions related to those arrests.
He is due for arraignment in the studio fire in the Van Nuys courthouse on April 17, police said. LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division is expected to submit the case to the DA’s office for felony filing consideration shortly.
LAFD’s arson investigators are still looking into whether the studio had smoke detectors, and whether sound-proofing material played a role in the fire.
The studio has about a dozen rooms for recording that are available for rent to the public 24 hours a day, Hayes said.