The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office waited until late Monday to announce that investigators had identified a suspect in the Sept. 6 blaze that burned down the Act X condominium complex, and shortly thereafter, deputies had 58-year-old David Rutledge in custody.
But Rutledge, who lived at the condo complex near Slidell, was a suspect from the first day, according to information from the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
Investigators cited early indications that Apartment 103 was occupied by a “person of interest.’’ The fire is believed to have started on the first floor.
Two witnesses reported seeing a resident drive away in a black Nissan Altima after telling them to get out of the building because there was a fire. The Sheriff’s Office said Rutledge was driving a black Altima.
About a dozen residents who lived in second-floor units were trapped by flames and had to be rescued by firefighters. Two young children were dropped off the second-floor balcony into the arms of first responders.
“Forty people almost lost their lives, including little children,’’ said Anna Bradform, who lived in the complex. “It hurts my heart that something like this would happen, that someone would intentionally do something like this.’’
Rutledge, who was arrested in St. Bernard Parish with the help of the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office, was booked on one count of aggravated arson and 10 counts of attempted first-degree murder.
His arrest also has revived interest in a 2013 fire at a duplex in Kingspoint subdivision near Slidell, according to sources. Rutledge listed his address as 191 Kingspoint Blvd. in a Florida arrest record.
Rutledge has a criminal record, although it doesn’t include arson. He faced counts of reckless driving and fleeing an officer in 2011 and 2013 — both in Florida.
Closer to home, he was arrested in Jefferson Parish in 1998 on two misdemeanor counts of simple battery and two misdemeanor counts of criminal mischief. All four counts were dismissed by the District Attorney’s Office.
In New Orleans, he pleaded guilty in 2012 to simple criminal damage to property.
The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office will hold a news conference on the case Wednesday.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.