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Grosse Pointe Park

Firebombing under investigation at Whittier home

May 20, 2013

A home in the 700 block of Whittier that belongs to Gary Van Elslander, the president of Art Van Furniture, was the apparent target of a firebombing during the very early morning hours of May 17.

Police said they rushed to the home around 3:23 a.m. after getting a fire alarm call. When they arrived, Public Safety Chief David Hiller said they discovered that someone had thrown a bottle containing a flammable liquid through the kitchen window, which partially ignited and caused a small fire.

Hiller said the fire was put out quite quickly — “before we even got there” — and no one was injured. He said the resident was awakened by the fire alarm and was able to extinguish the fire himself.

“It was very, very small,” Hiller said of the blaze. Only Grosse Pointe Park public safety officers needed to respond to the call, he said.

Police immediately began searching the area around the home and arrested a 20-year-old Grosse Pointe Park man shortly thereafter, Hiller said. He said that his officers did “excellent work.”

The suspect — Charles Patterson Kay — was arraigned the morning of May 19 in Grosse Pointe Park Municipal Court. According to an email from Wayne County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney and Director of Communications Maria Miller, Prosecutor Kym Worthy authorized several charges against Kay: arson second-degree, sending explosive with intent causing damage, and possession of a Molotov cocktail. The first two charges carry possible sentences of up to 20 years in prison, while the third charge carries a possible four-year sentence. Kay was given a $35,000 cash or surety bond with a tether.

Kay’s attorney, Charles Berschback, could not immediately be reached.

“We were home at the time of the incident,” Van Elslander said in a statement. “Fortunately, no one was hurt and only a window was broken. We are grateful to the Grosse Pointe Park Police Department for their quick action and assistance.”

An Art Van Furniture spokesperson said that police have told Van Elslander this incident “was not connected to (the) company or the family.”

Miller said “the facts of the case will be presented in court” during Kay’s preliminary examination, which was scheduled, at press time, for 9 a.m. May 29.

The Van Elslander name has become synonymous with home furnishings as well as community involvement. Founded in 1959 by family patriarch and philanthropist Art Van Elslander, Art Van Furniture is headquartered in Warren. According to the company’s website, Art Van has 36 stores in Michigan and will open its first stores outside of the state — in Illinois and Ohio — starting in July this year. Art Van Elslander is especially well-known for his support of The Parade Company’s America’s Thanksgiving Parade in downtown Detroit.

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