HOUSTON — Friends said they hope the man accused of intentionally setting fire to an art studio at Sawyer Yards last week is remembered for much more than his final acts.
Eoles “Duece” Whitaker II, 32, killed himself by jumping out of his high-rise downtown Houston apartment as investigators closed in to arrest him, according to authorities.
The fire was set at Sawyer Yards on Winter Street on Tuesday around 6:30 a.m., according to investigators. Investigators said they believe the fire was started at Studio Bohemian and spread to several nearby studios. Many artists said they lost their entire life's work in the fire but no one was injured.
Two days later, on Thursday, investigators announced that they believed the fire was intentionally set. Later that night, arson investigators said they were able to identify Whitaker through surveillance video. They said they got an arrest warrant and were on the phone with him while he was holed up in his apartment. When investigators knocked on his door to serve the warrant, that's when they said he jumped.
'I forgave him'
The artist who lost the most in the fire said he still considers Whitaker a friend but wishes things ended differently. The photography art studio where Jack Potts spent years creating things was destroyed in a matter of minutes.
“You see a fireball, like an action movie,” Potts said about the fire.
Potts said about $500,000 worth of his property went up in flames, but he wasn't the only one affected.
“You know, it wasn’t just my damage –- it was a lot of other damage,” Potts said.
Potts, who worked with Whitaker for about two years, showed KHOU 11 News the text he sent to Whitaker to try to get him to turn himself in. He said Whitaker was on a downward spiral and thinks he was possibly trying to cover his tracks by setting the fire after stealing the photography equipment.
“I still would consider him a friend,” Potts said. “To reach a point ... where that’s justifiable, he had to be hurting pretty bad.”
Several of Whitaker’s other friends said they don’t defend what he’s accused of doing at the end of his life, but also said it's not characteristic of the man known to be caring, giving and a joy to be around.
“I wish Deuce could have known that I forgave him,” Potts said.
Investigators said surveillance video not only showed the flames of the fire but who started it. According to court documents, Whitaker started the fire and was seen leaving with photography equipment in a wagon. He was seen with the same equipment in a video taken at The Rice Apartments, according to court documents.
Potts set up a GoFundMe page to help recover from the fire.
Whitaker's family also started a GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral expenses. He will be laid to rest on Saturday.