Hermosa Beach Police arrest arson suspect, declare first arrestee was innocent

Hermosa Beach police said Friday a man arrested as a suspect in an arson fire was cleared of involvement and another man was subsequently taken into custody for allegedly starting the two-alarm blaze that engulfed a three-story oceanfront home under construction and damaged four other nearby homes.

The fire, which resulted in the evacuation of a half-dozen residents, was reported shortly before 2 a.m. Thursday in the 800 block of Beach Drive and was extinguished in about an hour.

Related: Massive fire rips through three-story home under construction in Hermosa Beach, suspect detained

"Witnesses reported seeing a male subject inside the structure walk out just as the fire ignited,'' Hermosa Beach police Sgt. Mick Gaglia said in a statement released Friday morning. "A description was given and officers -- after evacuating homes in danger -- began a search for the suspect.

"HBPD officers located a subject matching the description and arrested him for suspicion of arson,'' Gaglia said. "This subject, previously identified as Michael Kotva, was interviewed by L.A. County Fire Department arson investigators. Further investigation revealed that Kotva was not responsible for igniting the fire and he was released without charges.''

Kotva, 27, was released about 8:30 p.m. Thursday, and a 50-year-old man from Riverside County was arrested about 10:25 p.m. and booked on suspicion of arson, Gaglia said.

"Surveillance video from the scene of the fire was provided to HBPD officers who immediately recognized the arson suspect as Keith Yessner, who had previous contacts with HBPD,'' the sergeant said. "Patrol officers began an extensive search throughout Hermosa Beach and located Yessner in the 1600 Block of Beach Drive, where he was contacted and arrested without incident.''

Yessner, 50, of La Quinta, was being held in lieu of $75,000 bail, according to the sheriff's department.

The Hermosa Beach Police Department is encouraging anyone with additional information or additional victims to contact Los Angeles County Fire Department Arson Investigator Brown at 323-855-0070 or randyd.brown@fire.lacounty.gov.

CNS contributed to this report.