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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Anna Maria restaurant fire deemed arson

Investigators of the West Manatee Fire & Rescue District and the State Fire Marshall's Office now say that the March 18 fire at the Waterfront Restaurant in Anna Maria was an act of arson.

"Information obtained in the investigation has led investigators to conclude that the cause of the fire is incendiary (intentionally set)," said a statement from the WMFR issued Monday, April 19.

Because of the continuing investigation, "specific details of the investigation/cause will not be released until the investigation is concluded. Investigators hope to complete the investigation in the very near future," the statement said.

Capt. Ernie Cave of the WMFR said he could not comment further about the investigation, and was unable to even say if the investigation had uncovered any suspects.

Capt. Kurt Lathrop of the WMFR posted a notice at the restaurant Monday stating the fire was considered arson and offering a reward of up to $1,000 or more for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Owners John and Leah Suzor, who have been working to gain approval to restore the property to its original condition, said they have been devastated by the fire and the arson announcement.

"It's been a nightmare," said Leah Suzor. She said it's been nearly a month since she last heard from the insurance company about repairing the building.

The fire was reported just after 5 a.m. on March 18 and caused an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 in damage, fire officials said.

The WMFR asked that anyone with information on the fire can call anonymously to Lathrop at 741-3900.