Calif. Dry Cleaning Fire Could Be Hate Crime


Federal investigators are trying to determine if a fire at an Orangevale drying cleaning business is a hate crime.

The Sacramento Metro Fire Department was called at around 4 a.m. to Star Cleaners, located in a strip mall at 9415 Madison Avenue. Firefighters said when they arrived, they could see smoke pouring out of a broken window.

Photos From The Field: Was Dry Cleaning Fire A Hate Crime?

The fire was contained to one wall and the ceiling, but smoke and water caused major damage throughout the business. Racks of clothing dropped off for dry cleaning were covered in melted plastic wrappers and dripping with soot and water.

Firefighters said after the smoke cleared, they discovered a gasoline can and a crowbar just inside the shattered window.

On a wall next to the entrance, someone had spray-painted a swastika along with the f-word and the word "Arab."

Joe Kurt told KCRA 3 that he and his sister Mona are co-owners of the business. He said that his family is originally from Palestine, but that they have been in the United States since the 1970s.

Kurt said he was at a loss to explain why someone would target his business. He said that his family are Christians and display a cross inside the shop. He said he recently displayed an American flag at the business to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"They're very American. They have a little bit of an accent. And they have some artifacts from the Middle East for sale," said customer J. J. Demauro. "They had some camel bags and things like that. So I mean you put it together. I can't imagine that they did anything to anyone to have inspired something that awful."

An investigator from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives was on scene Wednesday morning. An arson investigator collected evidence at the scene, including samples that were sealed in metal cans for testing at the crime scene investigations lab.

Steve Dupre, spokesman for the FBI office in Sacramento, said investigators were asking neighboring businesses if their surveillance cameras might have recorded the incident.

"It's really a mystery," said Dupre. "We don't have any leads pulling us in one direction of the other."

Dupre said that the FBI was not ready to label the fire a hate crime.

"We need to have more pieces of the investigation completed," Dupre told KCRA 3 Wednesday afternoon.

The fire department estimated damages at $60,000. Kurt said he does have insurance and that his customers will be reimbursed for their losses.

Surrounding businesses, including a 99 Cent Only store, were not damaged by the fire.

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