A USC senior is in jail after police charged him with throwing seven Molotov cocktails at buildings on campus and in downtown Columbia, including the Salty Nut Cafe.
Investigators believe Theodore Walter Podewil IV, 22, of Columbia tossed the homemade bombs from parking garages, at vacant houses and at trash bins. No one was injured in the fires, but the Jan. 6 Salty Nut blaze caused $300,000 in damage and the business has been closed for nearly a month.
Podewil is in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on seven counts of possessing and using an incendiary device. Three of the charges were filed by the USC Police Department, and four were filed by the Columbia Fire Department.
During a Wednesday afternoon bond hearing, Podewil smiled and chuckled as he told City Court Judge Dana Turner that he is a senior criminal justice major. He also told the judge that he has several charges pending in Richland and Lexington counties, including cocaine possession and DUI. He had two bonds set at $25,000 each.
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Investigators said the Molotov cocktails were built out of beer bottles, although on one a sunflower oil bottle from a health food store was used. Duct tape was used to secure cloth wicks to the bottles, which were filled with an accelerant, according to arrest warrants filed in the case.
On Jan. 6, Podewil is accused of throwing a firebomb from USC’s Pendleton Street parking garage, said Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins. The fire was reported to USC police about 3:45 a.m., according to a USC police incident report.
Once that firebomb successfully exploded, Podewil is accused of going to the Salty Nut, Jenkins said.
There, he is accused of breaking a window and throwing a Molotov cocktail inside, Jenkins said. That fire was reported about 4 a.m.
Five Points surveillance cameras captured footage of a man wearing a dark jacket and hat throwing a Molotov cocktail into the restaurant. Police released a photograph taken from that footage but were not able to identify the suspect.
Last weekend, Podewil is accused of striking again when five Molotov cocktails were thrown late Friday night and early Saturday morning.
He is accused of tossing one about 1 a.m. in a trash drop-off area near Carolina Gardens, USC’s graduate family housing complex, on Pickens Street near Whaley Street, according to arrest warrants and incident reports. A resident heard a crash outside his apartment and called police after seeing flames. The fire burned the trash area but did not damage homes, the reports said.
Podewil also is accused of tossing two Molotov cocktails at a vacant house in the 1900 block of Pendleton Street, according to arrest warrants, including one that was thrown through a bathroom window. Those fires caused about $500 in damages.
A fourth firebomb was tossed in the 1900 block of Pendleton Street, charring the pavement, a warrant said.
And, Podewil is accused of throwing a fifth device at USC’s University Technical Services annex on Main Street. A large recycling bin on the Wheat Street side of the building was the target. But the firebomb failed to ignite, and the green beer bottle shattered into pieces in the road, a warrant said.
A USC police officer on patrol the next day found the broken bottle, said Scott Prill, deputy chief of the USC Police Department.
Investigators were able to lift fingerprints off duct tape that had been used to secure cloth to the bottle, the warrant said. The fingerprints matched Podewil’s prints in a police database, Prill said.
USC police officers, State Law Enforcement Division agents and Fire Department investigators went to Podewil’s Laurens Street apartment at 8:30 Tuesday night to arrest him, Prill said. He lives alone and was asleep. Officers confiscated bottles, rags and gas cans from the apartment, Prill said.
Podewil grew up in Columbia and graduated from A.C. Flora High School. His father is a soldier stationed in Germany, Prill said.
He was a National Merit Scholarship finalist, an Eagle Scout and a lifeguard for the Richland County Recreation Commission, according to his LinkedIn webpage. Podewil appeared to be a good student, making USC’s dean’s list in 2009 and in the spring 2011 semester.
But it also was last spring semester when he was arrested for DUI by Columbia police. Last fall, USC police charged him with reckless driving and an open container violation. The S.C. Highway Patrol arrested him on a cocaine possession charge in December, according to an arrest record provided by SLED.
Glenn Podewil, the suspect’s younger brother, said he was shocked when he found out about the arrest Wednesday afternoon. One of his brother’s close friends told him, he said.
Glenn Podewil said the two were close, before his older brother moved closer to campus. He said he knew his brother had been in a little trouble in the past but was not aware of legal problems.
When police released footage from the Salty Nut fire, Glenn Podewil said he noticed a resemblance to his brother but did not call authorities.
“We’re deeply shocked and sad that this would happen,” he said.
Jenkins, the fire chief, said he was pleased that investigators were able to apprehend Podewil.
“We’re just glad to get him off the street,” Jenkins said. “We don’t know what he would have done next.”