UPDATE: Arson suspect gives NBC12 footage of fire

By Laura Geller - bio | email

ASHLAND, VA (WWBT) – Jose Antonio Ramirez was arraigned this morning in a Hanover County courtroom.  He's being held without bond on two felony charges of arson and one felony burglary charge.

He was appointed an attorney whom has requested a bond hearing for Ramirez at a later date.  He's scheduled to be back in court March 10 at 1:30 p.m.

It's a bizarre twist to an arson investigation at an Ashland motel. The amazing home video we've been showing you since the story broke was actually shot by the man authorities say started at least two of the three fires at the Super 8 Motel.

The fire chief in Hanover told NBC12 forensics investigators are now examining the footage of the first blaze set more than a week ago. At the very least, it places Jose Antonio Ramirez, the photographer and now the suspect in this case, at the scene of a fire authorities said he admitted setting.

That home video would be considered the money shot of any news story. When our crew arrived on the scene of a fire that forced thirty hotel guests to flee in the middle of the night, they couldn't believe they found Ramirez. At the time, reporter Gene Petriello didn't know he was talking to the man authorities said set the very blaze he captured on his small digital camera.

"His mood was kind of just like nonchalant like 'Hey I got this good video. I'll give it to you.  I have no problem showing it to you,'" he recalled.

In fact, while our crews were getting that video, the fire chief on scene also watched to see what Ramirez had shot. Afterwards, fire marshals confiscated video equipment from the suspect's room.

Fire Chief Willie Jones said this watch and wait mentality isn't out of the ordinary for an arsonist.

"Some of them like to watch their work and they get a gratification from actually seeing the fire, seeing the fire trucks and things like that," he explained.

Ramirez told investigators he worked at the motel, so he had a reason to be there. Suspicions arose when he was seen at the second fire Wednesday morning after the hotel had been shut down. That's when investigators also watched and waited. They said a surveillance team saw Ramirez go up to the second floor and light up a room.

"If he'd gone in there and they'd arrested him before he lit it, he could have said 'Hey I smelled gasoline. I was just checking this room out.' or anything like that," Jones said. "So by them taking that extra step made the case a lot easier."

Authorities said during their interrogation Monday, Ramirez confessed to setting the first fire.  Fire marshals went back to the motel to try and corroborate his story. They continue to piece together the puzzle to see if they can charge him with all three incidents. Right now, he's only facing one count of arson for the third blaze.

We've also spoken with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who have issued a detainer on Ramirez, which means they are looking into his immigration status and whether or not he is in the United States legally.

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