Wrong man arrested in Long Beach car fires investigation, authorities say

A man who was arrested on accusations of setting several car fires in parking garages in Long Beach over the last few weeks was released after investigators said they got the wrong guy. 

Cristian Portillo, 31, was arrested Wednesday for the series of fires. He faced multiple charges, including arson. However, investigators later determined he was not connected to the crimes. Officials said Portillo happened to match the suspect's description and was arrested in the area of one of the car fires. 

According to investigators, five fires had been set in parking structures along Seaside Way between the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center and the Camden Harbor View Apartments over the past two weeks. The latest fire happened Tuesday morning around 6 a.m. A white pickup truck was set on fire, completely destroyed. 

Police said the fires were set after someone took a rag, stuffed it into the gas tank and set it on fire. No one was hurt in any of the fires.

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John James's truck was the first vehicle set on fire. It happened last month at the Camden Harbor View Apartments. His wife Chelsea James said she's relieved there's been an arrest. John James was the one who noticed someone near the apartments who he thought was suspicious, and shared photos of the man with police.

"A few days after he lit my husband's car on fire, he saw him walking like right out [in the] broad daylight in the complex," Chelsea James said. "So my husband just snapped photos of him as he was walking by."

Portillo was arrested when authorities saw him near the complex around 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Kaylee Montalbano also had her truck completely destroyed in another fire. She said she felt with knowledge of the previous arsons, officials should have warned the public.

"I think they kind of downplayed the previous arson attempts and that's why I wasn't super aware or super wary that it could happen to me," Montalbano said. "I was like, ‘That wouldn't happen to me,' so I wish that there was more media attention previous to him being caught."

Long Beach Fire Capt. Jason Heflin defended how the department handled the investigation saying that even though the victims "felt obligated to share those videos with the media because maybe they didn't feel that they were getting enough attention to that, and that was not the case behind the scenes. Behind the scenes, the investigation was being conducted in a very clear and concise manner."