Austin man charged with attempted murder in arson case

Published 3:45 pm Thursday, August 15, 2019

An Austin man arrested in connection with a Wednesday afternoon residential fire was officially charged on Thursday afternoon.

James Edward Slavan, 62, was charged with two counts of felony first-degree attempted murder-premeditated, two counts of felony first-degree attempted murder-with intent-while committing a felony and one count of felony first-degree arson-dwelling.

According to the court complaint, Austin Police and Fire were dispatched at 3:13 p.m. Wednesday to a fire at an apartment at 1201 Third Avenue Northwest. The reporting parties indicated they were trapped and that the landlord had started the fire.

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First responders observed people yelling from the upstairs apartment. Flames were seen below the door to the upstairs apartment and on the deck and the exterior door was burned and/or covered with soot. Firefighters were able to breach the door and rescue the tenant, an adult male. A visitor, an adult female, cut her way through a window screen and had to be rescued via ladder, according to Austin Fire Chief Jim McCoy.

James Edward Slavan, 62

The man indicated the fire had been started by the landlord, Slavan, whom he said was mad at him and had been harassing him and his friends. He said the harassment had been worse since reporting Slavan, who lives on the main floor, during a domestic situation several weeks ago.

The man said Slavan had been harassing the woman before the fire and had been pounding on the door loudly demanding to be let in. After refusing to let Slavan in, the man said he saw drops dripping down on the floor by the door and fluid in the gap between the door and the floor. Within a few seconds he saw flames, which began to burn up the carpet, causing them to have to back away from the only exit. The fire came up about half way on the door when it started.

The woman corroborated the man’s story. 

The man also told police that Slavan had threatened to burn the house down around him a week prior. Slavan was reportedly drunk at the time.

Detectives found a gas can tilted on its side in the breezeway between the downstairs apartment and the garage. While photographing the door frame from the breezeway to Slavan’s apartment, a detective located a lighter with a blue handle on the ledge just inside the doorway.

Slavan was later arrested in the 1100 block of Second Avenue Northwest. He told police he had been drinking all day, but not so much that he could not recall the day’s events. He stated he got home from his mother-in-law’s house and observed two people leaving his property. He said he yelled, “Hey, there goes a bunch of heroin addicts leaving the house,” then went into his house and laid down for a minute before going to his friend’s house, where he was arrested. He denied knocking on the tenant’s door.

When told about the allegations he had set the fire, Slavan said he wanted to speak to an attorney.

The fire was contained primarily to the doorway and no injuries were reported. McCoy said a representative of the State Fire Marshal’s office collected samples to be tested at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension lab.

A review of Slavan’s criminal history shows prior convictions for domestic assault and knowingly violating predatory offender registration requirements. He is currently awaiting disposition on 2018 charges of felony second-degree criminal sexual conduct-victim under 13 and felony predatory offender fail to register.

He will make his first court appearance on Friday morning.