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Bend woman likely facing arson charge in 2 blazes

By John Hendricks
Published On: Jul 31 2013 03:04:33 PM CDT
Updated On: Aug 01 2013 11:58:50 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's John Hendricks reports on the woman who was taken into custody by Bend police. She was wanted as a person of interest after several fires broke out downtown.

BEND, Ore. -

Bend police said Thursday that arson and other charges are likely against a Bend woman they believe started two fires that broke out about an hour and a block apart in northwest Bend Wednesday afternoon, the second one at her residence.

Two women who live at an apartment a block away said they found Sarah Beth Garner, 38, on their back steps shortly after the two fires started.

"There was this woman who was sitting on the porch, sad and crying her eyes out," said Joanna, who rents the apartment.

The two said they let the woman in, gave her food and tried to comfort her, not knowing she was wanted by police.

"I started to talk to her," said Katie, who was visiting from out of town. "I was like, 'Can you tell me your name?' And she goes, 'I can't tell you that -- I won't be safe,' and started to tell me about her life."

The women said she also told them strange things, like she has worked for the FBI and had protected the president. The conversations lasted for several hours, and the two became worried where Garner would stay.

"She goes, 'I don't trust shelters, my mom will find me,'" Katie said. "She kept saying, 'My mom will find me."

Nearly six hours after the first fire started, the two women learned from a neighbor just who their house guest was.

"He told me about Sarah, and I was like, 'What?' Then the cops showed up," said Joanna.

A photo had been distributed earlier in the afternoon of Garner, who lives at a four-plex at 242 NW Hill Street, where a small fire was found by police shortly after 1:30 p.m. That was just over an hour after a fire destroyed a house at 134 NW Colorado Avenue, roughly a block to the southwest.

Bend police Lt. Chris Carney said officers determined Garner had just left the Colorado Avenue home when that fire started.

They went to contact her at her Hill Street residence, only to find heavy smoke coming from it, Carney said.

Carney said Thursday that Garner was being held at St. Charles-Bend for a mental health evaluation. But if released, he said, she will be arrested and taken to jail on charges of first-degree arson, recklessly endangering and reckless burning, pending a review of the case by the Deschutes County District Attorney's Office.

Anyone with information that could help in the ongoing investigation is asked to contact Bend police at (541) 322-2960.

Neighbors say they decided to move out due to Garner's strange behavior.

Dozens of calls flooded Deschutes County 911 dispatchers around 12:30 p.m. with reports of the first fire starting in the back of the home on Colorado Avenue, by a cul-de-sac at the south end of Harriman Street.

Bend Fire Battalion Chief Dave Howe said they arrived to find a large amount of fire on the exterior of and getting into the two-story house, which Deschutes County property tax records indicated was built in 1920.

Howe said they put out the blaze, kept it from spreading to the home next door. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

First responders quickly evacuated homes to the east and west and an apartment building to the south. Streets in the area were blocked off for safety and so hoses could stretch across them, including Delaware Avenue

Fire crews called by police to the Hill Street address around 1:35 p.m. found smoke in the building and coming out of a window, Howe said. They forced their way in and doused the fire, which caused "moderate" damage to the four-plex unit but no damage to the other units.

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