The former general manager of a Chickasha restaurant has been charged with arson.
Crews from the Chickasha Fire Department were called September 20,2020 to Sam Southern Eatery on 4th Street after receiving calls that the building was on fire.
“When our first arriving engine showed up on scene, there was heavy smoke showing from the building already and flames started to show out of the hood vent system on the roof,” said Chickasha Fire Chief Tony Samaniego.
It took crews nearly an hour to get the fire out and things under control. Right away, something about equipment in the kitchen didn’t look right to firefighters.
“There were some things that tipped us off that it may be arson,” Samaniego said. “We were able to narrow it down to the point of origin and knew that it was suspicious.”
A months long investigation and help from an insurance company pointed fingers at former restaurant general manager Nidal Al Gazawneth, 51.
In court records, investigators said he’s seen on camera re-entering the store after it’s closed, turning the burner dials of deep fryer appliances and then is seen rapidly leaving the kitchen area.
The building has since been demolished.
“(There was) heavy smoke and fire damage throughout the kitchen, heavy smoke and water damage throughout the rest of the building,” Samaniego said. “The fire got up into the attic area. We had to go defensive for a period of time during the fire due to potential collapse over the lobby area.
A beam did collapse on firefighters. While none of them were hurt, the suspect now faces life endangerment charges in addition to arson for the September fire.
“Obviously ourselves and the public safety is our number one priority, always just our number one priority,” Samaniego said.
Al Gazawneth has bonded out of the Grady County Jail on a $50,000 bond.