Arson suspect has $50,000 added to bond, banned from possessing pocket lighters

Thomas Smith is charged with a storage unit fire in March and burglaries in April
Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 3:21 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The Green Bay man charged with the destructive arson to storage units in March was back in court Friday to face additional charges.

As we reported on Thursday, additional charges were filed against Thomas Smith, 58. He is now charged with arson to a property other than a building, arson of a building without the owner’s consent, burglary charges, theft of movable property, possession of burglary tools and obstructing police.

The Brown County court commissioner set bond at $50,000 cash. That’s in addition to the $50,000 bond set at his court appearance on the initial charges.

If Smith gets out on bond, the commissioner required GPS monitoring, ordered him not to leave the state, and barred him from possessing any pocket lighters.

Smith is due back in court on June 23.

RELATED: Fire destroys storage units on Green Bay’s west side

RELATED: Storage unit tenant still reeling from alleged arson

RELATED: Suspect in storage unit fire hit with more arson, burglary charges

The fire on March 19 destroyed 33 rental units at Lok-Safe on Stiles Road on Green Bay’s west side, which caused nearly $400,000 in damage. Fire investigators determined the fire was an act of arson and that someone set fire to a pile of cardboard boxes stacked inside one of the units.

The criminal complaint explains why Smith quickly became a suspect.

While authorities were still at the fire scene, a maintenance worker approached and said a storage business across the street had 7 units broken into overnight. Investigators found the locks were cut with a tool.

That same day, Brown County deputies answered a complaint about a man dumping items in a riverbed. The witness took down the license plate and described the man’s car as being packed full of unknown items. The plate came back to a car registered to Smith’s wife.

An officer went to Smith’s home. Smith asked if it was about dumping the items. He apologized and offered to clean them up. The officer noticed Smith’s car was relatively empty. Smith consented to searching the car, and the officer found a tool with a metal cutting blade, a crescent wrench with metal shavings, other tools and several flashlights.

The officer asked Smith about the fire at Lok-Safe earlier that day. Smith said his wife rented a storage unit there, and he just visited it around 1 o’clock that morning to work on some speakers. He denied any involvement in the fire. He said he spent about 30 minutes looking for items people had discarded outside their units. He noted that one unit’s door was open, about a foot off the ground, and he peeked inside. Investigators found that curious since Smith has medical problems and sometimes walks with a cane and would have a difficult time getting flat to the ground and up again. Police also think being that close, he should have seen or heard anything suspicious.

Then investigators looked into his history. In 2014 and 2020, he was one of several apartment tenants whose storage unit locks were damaged in burglaries or attempted burglaries. In 2020, his car caught fire outside his home; no suspect was identified, and Smith blamed faulty wiring in an electric window. Also last year, Smith was the first caller to report a brush fire involving discarded tires.

Investigators also learned Smith was convicted of arson in Ohio in 1989, with court records showing he confessed to two arsons.

Records also show Smith reported car fires in 2001 and 2005, saying in one of those cases he chased a person who ran from the scene. In 2004, he said he chased someone trying to break into a neighbor’s apartment. In 2020, he reported his own apartment was burglarized and money from a lock box was stolen while his wife slept; he later admitted to fabricating that story.

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