TANGIPAHOA PARISH, LA (WAFB) - The Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office has arrested a man in connection to a string of arsons at three Walmart stores.
Officials say Larry Paul Schouest Jr. was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated arson and six counts of felony theft.
Schouest is accused of setting the fires as a distraction. They say he stole laptop computers from the stores.
The first incident happened on Saturday, July 8, at the Amite Walmart on W. Oak St. in the pool maintenance section at around 2:00 p.m.
The employees at the store put out the fire before crews arrived, but the flames and smoke have caused chemical issues in the store.
Hammond Fire Chief John Thomas said a second fire was set at the Walmart in Hammond on W. Thomas St. less than an hour after the fire in Amite, at around 2:50 p.m.
Thomas said pool chemicals were also set on fire at the Walmart in Hammond, creating a chlorine cloud, which can make breathing difficult.
Both Walmart locations were forced to close. The Amite location reopened early Sunday morning, but the Hammond location remained closed until noon Sunday.
According to State Fire Marshal Butch Browning, there was another incident at the Ponchatoula Walmart a few weeks ago, and Schouest allegedly confessed to starting that fire as well. Officials say laptops were also stolen during that incident.
"This very serious incident could have turned out much worse," said Ponchatoula Police Chief Bry Layrisson. "This man put innocent lives in danger to commit a theft. Thanks to the diligent, hard work of my officers and the teamwork from our surrounding agencies, this criminal is behind bars for his dangerous acts."
Schouest was booked into the Tangipahoa Parish Prison on charges of aggravated arson, felony criminal damage, and felony theft by shoplifting. Additional charges may be filed.