After a soft opening in mid-December, the owners of Hector's Pizza — a new restaurant in a busy shopping plaza off Bird Road — decided to close for the Christmas holiday.
But on the evening of December 25, Jacqui Hidalgo got an alert on her phone that the front door of her pizza parlor was open. Police arrived minutes later and found the business in flames. Firefighters rushed to the scene and eventually put out four fires throughout the restaurant.
"If you go over there now, basically there’s nothing in there except for our equipment, which we don't even know if it works or not," Hidalgo says. "The freezer, you can't even tell what it was. It was burnt to a crisp."
Police tracked down surveillance footage from other tenants in the Birdside Shopping Centre and found
"During a post-Miranda interview, which was audio-recorded, Peña stated she was angry with the owner of the shopping plaza for taking her business away," the arrest report says. "Peña confirmed she set multiple fires inside the business as an act of vengeance."
The Christmas Day saga started around 2:30 p.m. when a locksmith says Peña called him to let her into the pizza shop at 12835 SW 42nd St. After unlocking the front door, he let Peña into the building. They then drove off in separate vehicles. Surveillance footage shows Peña returning about 20 minutes later, this time with a white jug in hand. As she left a second time, smoke was seen rising from the front of the building, according to the affidavit.
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Investigators identified the locksmith company's van and spoke to the locksmith, who said he had known Peña when she owned the previous pizza shop, Kasalta 305, and assumed the business was still hers. But court records show the building's owners filed to evict Peña and her co-owners in September after the tenants failed to pay over $8,000 in back rent.
Peña was arrested December 27 and charged with one count of arson, a crime punishable by 5 to 20 years in prison. She is being held at a federal detention center in downtown Miami and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Although Hidalgo and her husband, Hector, had planned a grand opening December 28, they were forced to shut down operations while the restaurant is restored. Repairs are expected to take at least two more weeks.
"The loss of income definitely hurts," Hidalgo says. "We're just basically now waiting to be able to get back into the business."