Arson Suspected in Southwest Cedar Rapids Fire

By Lee Hermiston, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Police said a Cedar Rapids man got into an argument with his wife and then tried to turn himself in at the Linn County Jail.

Sometime in the middle of all that, someone set fire to the man's home.

The incident started shortly before midnight. Cedar Rapids Police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said officers responded to 2472 Fruitland Blvd. SW at 11:43 p.m. for a domestic incident. Hamblin said 51-year-old Ken Ngombwa had gotten into a verbal dispute with his wife. No charges were filed and officers left the residence, Hamblin said.

But, Hamblin said officers were called back an hour later when an adult family member was suicidal. Police said they could hear fire alarms going off at the residence, triggering a response from the fire department.

Firefighters responded to the residence at approximately 12:44 a.m. First responders encountered smoke coming from two front bedroom windows of the single-story residence.

Greg Buelow, the fire department's special projects coordinator, said firefighters entered the residence through a side door, encountered thick smoke and attacked a fire in the bedroom.

The fire was quickly extinguished, but the home owner, Ngombwa, was nowhere to be found.

Sheriff Brian Gardner said Ngombwa showed up at the Linn County Jail lobby and told deputies he wanted to turn himself in because of the previous domestic incident. However, since police didn't charge Ngombwa with anything related to the domestic incident, deputies had no reason to arrest him.

With nothing to hold him on, Gardner said deputies explained to Ngombwa that there was no reason for him to go to jail and he was asked to leave. At that point, Ngombwa lay down in the jail lobby and refused to leave. Gardner said Ngombwa had also blocked the entrance gate to the jail with his car.

"We asked him to leave a couple of different times," Gardner said. "Ultimately, we arrested him for interference."

About that time, Gardner said Cedar Rapids police contacted the jail and told deputies about the fire at Ngombwa's residence. Police came to the jail to tow his car and speak with Ngombwa as part of their investigation. As of Tuesday morning, Ngombwa has not been charged with anything, according to the Linn County Attorney's Office.

However, serious charges could be coming.

Buelow said an investigation into the blaze showed the fire was intentionally set.

"We expect to submit a warrant request and reports to the county attorney for possible charges," Buelow said. "Likely, the charges will be for arson."

However, Buelow said he couldn't say for certain Tuesday who the fire department would be seeking to charge for the fire.

Buelow said the fire caused extensive damage to the bedroom where the fire originated. The remainder of the residence sustained significant smoke damage, Buelow said.

Gardner said even if Ngombwa was a suspect in the arson, they can't detain him at the jail until he's been arrested on those charges. The county attorney's office said Ngombwa would likely go before a judge Wednesday morning.
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