Missing Plaza Hotel caretaker suspected of starting fire, Victoria police say

Missing Plaza Hotel caretaker suspected of starting fire, Victoria police say
WatchVictoria police say the person behind the fire at Victoria's Plaza Hotel is the building's caretaker, Mike Draeger. His body was never found, but they believe Draeger started the fire, then perished. Mary Griffin reports.

Victoria police say the caretaker of the Century Plaza Hotel building, which was destroyed in a fire last year, is believed to be the only suspect in the arson and may have died in the flames.

The police’s Major Crime Unit Detectives made the announcement Thursday, saying they have exhausted all investigative avenues into the fire, which started on May 6, 2019.

“This file will remain open, however, after a lengthy and coordinated effort, there are currently no new leads to pursue,” police said in a statement.

According to police, the Plaza Hotel building was known to be unoccupied, except for the lone occupant, caretaker Michael Draeger.

‘Despite an exhaustive search, Mr. Draeger has never been found, leading investigators to the possibility that he may have perished in the fire. The file will remain classified as an arson. The missing person file associated to Mr. Draeger will remain an open and active investigation,” police said.

Police said Draeger is the main suspect in the fire and if he died in the fire, his remains would have been destroyed. The damage was intense with debris everywhere. The owner of the building also cleaned after the fire and did not find any remains.

According to police, no evidence of Draeger was found anywhere else in Victoria or otherwise after the fire.

The five-storey hotel, located at 603 Pandora Avenue, was engulfed in flames early in the morning on May 6, with police being notified that the Victoria Fire Department was battling a structure fire at around 5:30 a.m. The fire was brought under control later that morning but firefighters remained on scene for several days.

The majority of the building was destroyed during the fire, police said. The Victoria Fire Department later knocked down the remaining walls and what was left the building to prevent further collapse.

On May 13, 2019, detectives with VicPD’s Major Crime Unit took over the scene from the Victoria Fire Department, which had advised VicPD that the fire was suspicious.

Victoria police detectives carried out a search warrant on the building site once the fire was under control and the scene was safe.

Police said the search took approximately 10 days to complete and required the use of excavators working in a grid pattern to search for evidence.

Victoria Police Detective Constable Andre Almeida said Thursday investigators determined early on the fire was arson.

“What we found is some evidence that would say the sprinkler systems had been tampered with,” Almeida said.

Investigators now say two fires were set, one on the fourth floor threatening neighbouring buildings and another in the basement. And they say the fires were set by someone with extensive knowledge of the building.

“So that leads to our conclusion that the only person who we believe had that type of knowledge was Mr. Draeger,” Almeida said.

Draeger lived in the vacant building as its caretaker. Before that, he was a maintenance worker while the hotel still operated. But no trace of him ever turned up. For the businesses on the block, it’s been difficult.

Cherry Bomb Toys is across the lane from the Plaza Hotel.  Owner B. Woodward said he had to close for a month after the fire.

“The amount of aspects and stress that this has caused to our lives is, is massive. And it’s not just us. But our neighbours, fellow businesses. It affected everybody,” he said.

Police said detectives will continue to pursue any new leads. If you have information about the Plaza Hotel fire or any information on the disappearance or whereabouts of Draeger, you are asked to call the non-emergency line at (250) 995-7654. Press #1 to speak with the report desk.

VicPD released surveillance photos last year of Mike Draeger, the caretaker at the Plaza Hotel that was destroyed in a fire on May 6, 2019. Draeger is still unaccounted for. (VicPD)

VicPD released surveillance photos last year of Mike Draeger, the caretaker at the Plaza Hotel that was destroyed in a fire on May 6, 2019. The photos were prior to the fire. Draeger is still unaccounted for. (VicPD)

To report what you know anonymously, please call Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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