CARLSBAD, Calif. — A customer who sought repairs at a Southern California dealership has been arrested for arson and insurance fraud, among other charges, following investigations into a lot fire and subsequent vehicle theft.
Police say Charleston Octavius McGhee, 29, is the man caught on multiple security cameras breaking into the secured lot at Bob Baker Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram Fiat on the evening of Tuesday, March 26. The suspect can be seen carrying two cans of accelerant he used to set a fire that destroyed eight vehicles, including his own.
McGhee was arrested and charged Saturday. He also stands accused of conspiring to steal a pre-owned 2018 Dodge Charger Hellcat from the same lot the week after the fire. His bail is set at $185,000.
In an exclusive interview with Auto Dealer Today, general manager Kurt Anderson said the fire started at about 9:45 p.m., 45 minutes after closing. A cleaning crew was at work in the service bays when they heard a tire explode, went outside, saw the fire, and called 911. Anderson met investigators at the dealership, where they reviewed the security footage. The next morning, he met with his service advisors.
“One advisor raised his hand and said, ‘I know who it was. We’ve had his car for four months,’” Anderson said. “He had bought the car, never bought insurance, slid into something and damaged it. He brought it in and said it should be covered under the warranty. Then he tried his insurance company. Then he tried to open another policy with a different insurance company. In the meantime, we had to repossess his loaner. Then the fire happened.”
Anderson contacted the Carlsbad Police Department, where Det. Ron Dement began building a case against McGhee. Then, on April 4, an unidentified man used a key to steal the Charger — in broad daylight, with service personnel looking on. The vehicle’s prior owner’s Uconnect tracking feature was still active, allowing police to quickly find the vehicle and arrest the suspect. Anderson said that man told police McGhee had given him the key.
“That’s the other twist,” Anderson told ADT. “Mr. McGhee is a salesman at the same dealership we purchased the Charger from. Hellcats have three sets of keys, including the red high-performance key. Bob Baker had only received two keys, and the prior owner verified he had given the third key to the other dealership. That third key went missing from that dealership.”
Anderson credits his store’s video surveillance system — recently upgraded thanks to a word of advice from a fellow dealer — with capturing clear footage of the incident and the suspect.
“Get good cameras,” he advised. “Not just for security, but the service lanes. People drive in with dents and claim we caused them. That’s frequent. They’ve more than paid for themselves.”