The Daily Gamecock

USC student arrested, suspected in Salty Nut arson

Fourth-year criminal justice student charged with manufacturing, possessing, using an incendiary device

An apprehended USC student is believed to have started the Jan. 6 Salty Nut Cafe fire and is suspected in three attempted arsons around campus.

Theodore Walter Podewil IV, 22, was arrested when police arrived at his apartment on the 900 block of Laurens Street around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. He was asleep when officers arrived, and he cooperated peacefully, police said.

Podewil, a fourth-year criminal justice student, is charged with manufacturing, possessing and using an incendiary device and is being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention center with bail set at $25,000.

Law enforcement chose not to charge Podewil with arson because if he’s convicted, the current charges would result in a longer imprisonment, according to Fire Department Chief Aubrey Jenkins.

The incendiary device charge can result in 10 to 20 years in prison, while an arson charge carries a lighter sentence with a maximum of 10 years.

“He was manufacturing,” Jenkins said, referring to Molotov cocktails Podewil allegedly made. “That’s why we chose that charge, as opposed to the arson charge.”

Incidents occurring over the weekend led investigators to Podewil.

Police said he threw a Molotov cocktail consisting of a Rolling Rock beer bottle, a white cloth and an unknown chemical at a dumpster behind the University Technology Services Annex Saturday night. However, the concoction did not ignite, and his fingerprints were found on the duct tape he allegedly used to tape the cloth to the bottle.

The brand of the bottle, according to an incident report, “coincides with several similar open investigations” by campus and Columbia police.

At the scene of another incident the night before, another Rolling Rock bottle “may have been used as the device” when a Carolina Gardens trash drop-off area on Whaley Street caught fire, according to a separate report.

Police matched the fingerprints they collected to Podewil’s, which had been taken after a previous arrest.

According to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), Podewil was arrested three times in 2011: in April on charges of drunken driving, in October for reckless driving and driving with an open container, and in December for possession of cocaine.

When he was arrested Tuesday, investigators found evidence in his home “leading us to believe he’d continue if we hadn’t worked together,” Jenkins said.

Police had also responded to a report that a “burning object” was thrown from the top of Pendleton Street Garage at about 3:45 a.m. on Jan. 6, a few hours before the Salty Nut Cafe caught fire. Responding officers found “the shattered remains of what appeared to be a glass bottle that contained charred fabric and a flammable liquid” in the intersection of Pendleton and Pickens streets.

Since then, SLED, USC police and the Columbia Fire Department collaborated to relate the crimes.

Police said they think Podewil also used a Molotov cocktail in the Salty Nut Cafe arson, allegedly breaking a window and throwing one through it.

They believe that the targets of the crimes were chosen at random and that Podewil’s alleged acts were becoming increasingly frequent.

Police are not sure if Podewil worked alone. But Jenkins said he was relieved Podewil has been taken into custody.

“There is a calm in the neighborhood and the business area to know that this person’s off the street,” Jenkins said.