January 31, 2014 in City

Spokane Valley coffee shop owner arrested for arson

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Jenn Na helps a customer at the Coffee Break stand, Jan. 22, 2014 in Spokane Valley, Wash. The stand was targeted with an attempted arson and a spray-painted racial slur in the parking lot. It read “Go back to China.” Fire investigators have arrested Na for second-degree arson for trying to set fire to her own stand on Barker Road.
(Full-size photo)

One of the owners of a Spokane Valley coffee stand that reported vandalism and an arson attempt last week was arrested today and charged with second-degree arson.

Investigators believe Jennifer Na, one of two sisters who runs the Coffee Break espresso stand, set the fire herself. She is also believed to have spray painted “Go back to China” on the pavement, which led to speculation that it was a hate crime.

Spokane Valley Fire Department Deputy Fire Marshal Clifton Mehaffey said surveillance video shows her entering the coffee shop late at night with a gas can in her hand. The video also shows her reaching to unplug the video system, Mehaffey said.

Na initially denied the accusation, but then admitted she did it, Mehaffey said. She claimed she had no desire to burn down the building, though gasoline and burned paper was found. She reportedly told Mehaffey that she used to work as a volunteer firefighter with Spokane County Fire District 3 and if she wanted to burn down the building, she would have.

Her sister, Diana Na, had no role in the crime, Mehaffey said. “She was very upset,” he said.

Why Jennifer Na did it is still not clear, Mehaffey said. She told Mehaffey he wouldn’t understand her reason, but wouldn’t elaborate, he said. “Them calling the media was a red flag for us,” he said. “Even her sister doesn’t believe it’s (for) publicity. The motive is somewhat elusive in this case.”

Jennifer Na’s background also raised red flags for investigators. She was charged with first-degree trafficking in stolen property and four counts of second-degree theft last year after allegedly stealing a digital camera from Spokane County Fire District 3 and a wallet belonging to the district’s deputy fire chief. She pleaded guilty to one charge of second-degree theft and was sentenced to one day in jail and ordered to pay $280 in restitution.

The Liberty Motel on North Division, which is owned by Na’s father, suffered heavy damages in a fire in 2011 but investigators do not believe Na had a role in that incident.

The fire started in the bedding in one of the rooms and the cause was determined to be a cigarette dropped by a guest, said Spokane Fire Department Assistant Chief Brian Schaeffer.

“The owners of the Liberty Motel did not play any role in the October 25, 2011 fire, other than calling 911 after the fire was discovered,” Schaeffer said.

Na has also been charged with third-degree malicious mischief and false reporting.

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