Early morning arsons close Payette restaurant, damage pickup truck nearby

This booth was seriously damaged by an early morning arson at the A&W in Payette.
This booth was seriously damaged by an early morning arson at the A&W in Payette.

Payette’s popular A&W restaurant likely will be closed for about two weeks after someone threw a cinderblock through a window and tossed a flaming rag or similar object onto a booth around 12:40 a.m. Monday, the restaurant’s manager said.

It was part of string of malicious pre-dawn incidents in the small western Idaho town that police believe can be traced to the same person or people.

“It damaged the whole left side of the building,” manager Dawn Kingrey said as she waited for a disaster cleanup crew to arrive during what would normally be lunch rush. “We lost a booth, the phone line ... all of our old records that we have hanging on the wall are melted.”

“It would have been a complete loss, from what I understand,” Kingrey said, if a passerby hadn’t stopped, turned on the hose on the restaurant’s patio and put it through the broken window. The Weiser man also called 911, she said, adding that she hadn’t been able to get ahold of him yet to thank him.

The fiery crime spree started about 20 minutes earlier, when a homeowner on 7th Avenue North spotted someone pouring gasoline on his trailer home, Payette Police Chief Mark Clark told the Statesman. The owner confronted the man, who ran away. Two subsequent arsons, the A&W on Main Street and a pickup truck on 2nd Avenue South, also apparently involved gasoline as an accelerant, Clark said.

Another business, Health Care With Heart on Center Avenue, reported a brick tossed through its window, but no fire, Clark said.

All four incidents appear related, and police believe the man spotted outside the trailer is involved with all of them. He is described as about 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 190 pounds, wearing glasses. And Clark believes that man wasn’t alone.

“The suspect yelled, ‘run!’ so unless he was talking to himself, we figure there was an accomplice,” Clark said.

The morning’s final arson, a fully engulfed pickup truck outside a residence, was reported about 5 a.m., he said. The arsons are being investigated by the state fire marshal, he said.

At the A&W, no dollar estimate of the damage was available Monday, and Kingrey said she hopes the restaurant can be repaired sufficiently to reopen in time for this year’s Apple Blossom Festival, which runs May 8 through 14.

In addition to the damage to the building, Kingrey said she’s concerned about the loss of income for the restaurant’s 16 employees and the impact on community members who rely on the restaurant as one of a handful of local dining options.

“We have a lot of customers who come in daily,” she said.

Kristin Rodine: 208-377-6447

Can you help investigators?

Anyone with information about the string of arsons and other crime in Payette early Monday is asked to call the Payette Police Department at 208-642-6026.