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West Valley man 'obsessed' with owner of massage business charged with starting $2M fire

Salt Lake firefighters respond to a fire at an office building in Sugar House on Sunday, June 13, 2021.

Salt Lake firefighters respond to a fire at an office building in Sugar House on Sunday, June 13, 2021. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)



SALT LAKE CITY — Prosecutors say a West Valley man obsessed with the owner of a massage parlor who has a history of stalking the owner of a second massage business in the same complex intentionally started a fire that burned down both businesses and more than 20 others.

The fire at a multi-unit office building in Sugar House caused more than $2 million in damage.

Alex Kentish Tuita, 37, was charged Wednesday in 3rd District Court with three counts of aggravated arson, a first-degree felony, and two counts of stalking, a second-degree felony.

The large fire destroyed the office building at 1104 E. Ashton Ave. on June 13. The blaze also spread and damaged a nearby home and duplex. Damage to the office structure was estimated at $1.75 million just for the building itself, according to charging documents, with "the amount of loss to each of the approximately 25 businesses within the building (being) unknown at this time."

One of those businesses was a massage parlor. The woman who owns the business told police that Tuita is a former client who had been banned, yet he continued to call and text her "inappropriate things" and stalk her despite her asking him to stop, the charges state. Tuita even created a fake Instagram profile of the woman "because he was 'obsessed'" with her, investigators wrote in the charges.

Tuita is also accused of challenging the woman's fiancé to a fight, the charges state.

After the woman first contacted police, Tuita "again tried to schedule an appointment online, but (the woman) denied the appointment and was in the process of seeking a civil injunction against Tuita when the fire occurred at her place of business," according to the charges.

Additionally, a second woman who also owns a massage business in the building told police that Tuita is also a former client of hers and she filed a stalking injunction against him in 2018. The injunction was still active at the time of the fire, the charging documents state.

When interviewed by investigators, Tuita admitted to arriving at the building with a "jar full of gas," pouring it on the building and igniting it with a lighter, according to the charges.

Prosecutors have requested that Tuita be held in the Salt Lake County Jail without bail, noting in court documents that he had threatened two women as well as their families, and that "he was motivated by revenge when he started the fire."

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