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Man Charged in 4 Deaths Tied to Arson

Fire: He is booked on suspicion of setting a blaze in the Hollywood Hills in May.

July 26, 2002|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN and RICHARD WINTON

LAPD detectives on Thursday arrested a 26-year-old Los Angeles man on suspicion of murder in the deaths of four members of an Indian immigrant family, whose charred remains were found inside a Hollywood Hills home that fire investigators say was intentionally set on fire in May.

Carlos Amador, 26, was booked on four counts of murder and one count of arson in connection with the Lakeridge Drive blaze, police said. Found dead inside the house were Gita Kumar, 43; her son Paras, 18; her daughter Tulsi, 16; and Gita Kumar's mother-in-law, Sitaben Patel, 63.

Amador was led in handcuffs into LAPD's Parker Center headquarters shortly after 1 p.m. after his arrest in Cerritos by LAPD Robbery-Homicide division detectives. "He is one of the suspects and there are other suspects that remain at large," said Robbery-Homicide Lt. Don Hartwell.

Harish "Harry" Kumar returned home shortly after 11 p.m. May 4 to discover his bungalow ablaze. His wife, son, daughter and mother were dead inside. Fire investigators quickly identified the blaze as arson after finding traces of a flammable liquid in more than one location inside the house. The blaze, they said, had begun in two bedrooms. The bodies were found in one room of the house and were so badly burned that dental records were required to identify them.

Los Angeles Robbery-Homicide Capt. Jim Tatreau declined to specify a motive, but said of Amador, "We believe he was directly involved [in the deaths]." The county coroner's office has not released a cause of death.

Investigating detectives have focused on Harish Kumar's business relationships. The family's personal computers and financial records were searched for clues.

Kumar, 47, owns four motels in the Los Angeles area, including the Universal City Inn in Studio City, which he bought in 1990. He also owns motels in south Los Angeles and on Sunset Boulevard.

Kumar was interviewed after the killings, but he was not considered a suspect, according to detectives. Kumar's cousin, Danny Patel, said police had given Kumar a polygraph test, but the LAPD has not confirmed that.

On the night of the fire, Kumar attended a volleyball tournament in Bakersfield with friends, according to a relative, Chantu Patel. Relatives said Kumar had been eager to get home because his son Paras had returned from UC San Diego that day to spend the weekend with his family.

Police say that, about 11:16 p.m., Kumar called 911, saying the three-bedroom home had been ablaze when he pulled up in his minivan. Firefighters found him standing on the front lawn screaming for help .

Pierpont Laidley, an attorney for Kumar, said there may have been $3,000 to $4,000 in cash receipts from the hotels' businesses at the house that night. Laidley said Gita Kumar had returned from India a day earlier and was catching up on bookkeeping.

After the fire, friends of Tulsi Kumar, a Reseda High School student, held a memorial service on the campus. Friends and relatives called Gita Kumar a dedicated mother and sharp businesswoman who helped with the hotel business. Paras Kumar, a freshman at UC San Diego, was known as an A student, and Tulsi was remembered for her kindness to others.

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