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Ex-police chief arrested, charged with setting a dozen fires in Maryland

Authorities said David M. Crawford targeted people with whom he had disagreements. He faces numerous arson and attempted murder charges.

A former police chief in Laurel, Maryland, is accused of setting a dozen fires in various counties, targeting people with whom he had disagreements.

David M. Crawford, 69, was arrested Wednesday on numerous arson and attempted murder charges, the Prince George’s County Fire Department said. Crawford allegedly set vehicles, homes and residential garages on fire in a string of arsons from 2011 to 2020.

Many of the fires happened early in the morning and involved a suspect wearing a sweatshirt with a hood drawn tightly around their face and carrying gallon jugs filled with gasoline. Authorities said the person was seen on surveillance video using a stick wrapped in cloth to set the fires and drove a silver sedan.

A break in the investigation came after the last known fire in 2020 when authorities found a connection between the victims, which led them to Crawford.

All of the victims had some type of dispute with Crawford prior to their property being set ablaze, according to authorities.

The victims included a former City of Laurel official, a former Laurel police chief, two other former law enforcement officials, two of Crawford's family members, two of his former physicians, and a neighbor.

Five of the fires were in Howard County, three in Montgomery, two in Prince George's and one in Frederick. Crawford is also suspected in a March 2019 arson in Charles County, where a vehicle fire spread to a nearby home as the victim and family were asleep inside. He has not been charged in the Charles case.

In the first fire, on May 28, 2011, Crawford allegedly targeted a Laurel city official. Authorities said surveillance video captured him dousing the victim's personal and work vehicles in gasoline before setting the personal car on fire.

"While the suspect was setting the victim’s personal vehicle on fire, the suspect’s clothing caught fire. The suspect is then seen on video fleeing the scene," according to the fire department's release.

On Sept. 5, 2016, he allegedly set fire to a townhouse in Clarksburg. The townhouse was unoccupied, but the blaze spread to a neighboring townhouse where a person was home, authorities said. The following September, Crawford is accused of setting the same townhouse on fire.

During another incident, on June 23, 2017, a family that included two juveniles was at their Elkridge home sleeping when a fire broke out. Authorities said the family was able to escape.

Crawford allegedly set fire to one Ellicott City home on three separate occasions. On Dec. 9, 2017, fire officials responded to a blaze at a single-family home on Spring Meadow Drive. The family, two adults and one juvenile, was able to escape.

In August 2018, contractors working on the damaged home discovered that an area of the front yard had been burned, according to authorities. A month later, officials were called to another fire at the home.

"The home was unoccupied as renovations had just been completed from the previous fire," authorities said. "Investigators determined the fire originated along the front of the house to include the garage and spread to the majority of the rest of the house."

Authorities said attempted murder charges were filed because "there were clear signs the residents were inside the homes at the time Crawford set fire to the structures." During six of the fires, the victims were home asleep, according to officials.

In January, authorities executed a search warrant at Crawford's home in Ellicott City and found "several critical items of evidence" including a "target list." He was charged in multiple jurisdictions and is being held at the Howard County Detention Center.

Online court records do not list an attorney for Crawford.

Crawford last worked in law enforcement in 2010. In an October press release of that year, Laurel Mayor Craig A. Moe announced that Crawford was retiring for "personal reasons."

His prior jobs included District Heights police chief and a major for the Prince George's County Police Department.