Bay Area News Group
Investigators probing a now-infamous inferno that destroyed a Home Depot in South San Jose earlier this month are seeking additional witnesses who can confirm that a man now charged with arson was on the property before, during and after the five-alarm blaze.
Thursday, San Jose police released a security image of a man they have identified as 27-year-old Dyllin Jaycruz Gogue, captured at a Bass Pro Shops a mile north of the Home Depot about an hour before the April 9 fire.
The aim of the image release is to give a frame of reference for what Gogue was wearing that day with the hope of gathering more eyewitness accounts of him being at the Home Depot at 920 Blossom Hill Road. Authorities have charged Gogue with intentionally starting the fire as a diversion while he made off with a shopping cart full of stolen tools.
It remains unclear, at least publicly, whether any store surveillance footage capturing Gogue’s movements at the store survived the massive fire, which blanketed the surrounding area with noxious smoke for days and burned so hot it was detected by orbiting weather satellites.
In a police statement accompanying the arson charges, only one witness is cited as having seen Gogue leaving the then-smoldering Home Depot. Based on previous official statements about the fire, that person appears to be a store employee who stopped the theft. The document also alleges that Gogue “made statements regarding starting the fire,” but it was unclear to whom he reportedly made them.
Thursday’s call-out for more witnesses who saw Gogue at the Home Depot suggest that security video and images of him in the store were either compromised or lost in the fire. At a Tuesday news conference, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen declined to give specific answers about whether security footage was recovered, citing a concern that such a disclosure at this stage could “taint the investigation.”
Gogue has been charged with three counts of arson, involving the blaze at the Home Depot as well as fire damage to two adjacent homes. He was also charged with 10 counts of grand theft and petty theft on allegations he stole $17,000 worth of items from six San Jose retailers going back to October.
Gogue was arrested April 15 in San Jose and is being held without bail at the Elmwood men’s jail. He was arraigned Tuesday and is scheduled to return to court June 1.
Rosen said Tuesday that investigators believe that Gogue is “solely responsible” for the fire, though he reportedly fled the scene in a waiting car driven by another person. It has not been disclosed whether that person is under investigation; Rosen on Tuesday specifically avoided calling the person an accomplice but said that “as the case goes on, more information about that other person may become more relevant.”
Authorities also allege that Gogue stole items from the Bass Pro Shops store shortly before the fire, but those are not reflected in the new theft charges. The timeline of those thefts overlap with three active misdemeanor prosecutions of Gogue: a March 2021 battery charge out of Campbell; a Jan. 21 petty theft charge out of Sunnyvale; and an April 1 petty theft charge out of San Jose.
Between those charges, court records show that on March 9, Gogue pleaded no contest to misdemeanor counts of petty theft and being under the influence of a controlled substance after an arrest at a Sunnyvale REI store. For that conviction, he was sentenced to a year of probation and was ordered to stay away from the store.
For the three active theft prosecutions prior to the Home Depot fire, Gogue was free on zero-dollar bail. In the most recent case, he was ordered to stay away from the Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall in San Jose.
The fire was first reported to dispatchers by Home Depot employees and patrons at about 5:30 p.m. The store went up in flames within minutes, sending customers and employees fleeing for their lives and forcing evacuations of nearby residents. It took firefighters six hours to get the blaze under control.
Investigators believe the fire started in the store’s lumber section and have estimated the fire caused $17 million in inventory loss for Home Depot, in addition to tens of millions in structural damage to the building. Still, questions about how the flames were able to level the massive store so quickly and whether fire code violations at the building played a role remain unanswered.
Check back later for updates to this story.