WOODRIDGE, Ill. (WLS) —
A disgruntled employee intentionally set a massive fire that destroyed a RoomPlace distribution center in southwest suburban Woodridge, federal investigators said Friday.
PHOTOS: Firefighters battle Woodridge warehouse blaze
Ruben Ochoa Cruz, 20, of Joliet, is facing federal arson charges in connection with the blaze that caused around $70 million in damages last week. He had worked at the warehouse as a forklift operator for only seven months, investigators said.
The blaze broke out on April 21 at the RoomPlace’s main distribution center in the 2500-block of Internationale Parkway around 5 p.m. Firefighters said more than 700,000 square feet went up in flames, and more than 100 firefighters from 30 departments were called in to help. About 65 employees who were working at the time were able to escape unharmed, but the building was reduced to ash.
Investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said that Cruz had an argument with management over his attendance the day the fire broke out. After returning to his duties, Cruz then allegedly lit a piece of packing slip on fire and dropped it from a forklift that had been raised high above the ground. Investigators said that Cruz has admitted to the crime.
“He was upset with management, with his supervisors, because he had just had a heated argument with them over vacation time. They were going to cut his vacation time because of days missed at work, and he was upset about that. And so he left that meeting and angrily went back to his station where he was working within the warehouse,” ATF spokesperson Tom Ahern said.
ATF investigators said they were able to identify Cruz because of a security card screener that put him in the area of the warehouse where the fire began.
Officials for The RoomPlace responded to the charges in a written statement: “We are deeply disturbed at the news one of our employees has been charged in connection with the fire that destroyed our main distribution center April 21st. We continue to cooperate with federal authorities as they search for more details around a cause and potential motive. In the meantime, we remain focused on rebuilding our warehouse and delivery infrastructure and supporting those employees displaced by the fire.”
Cruz is in the custody of U.S. Marshals and is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center. If convicted on federal arson charges, he faces up to 20 years in prison. He could also face state charges.
Cruz is due in federal court on May 4.