Sacramento house blast owners: 'We're victims too'

5:57 PM, Jul 20, 2010   |    comments
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COLFAX, CA - Chris and Sandra Liu spent two weeks under a cloud of suspicion before an early morning phone call from a police detective told them an arrest had been made in the arson-caused explosion of their Sacramento rental house.

Sacramento Police Detective Pat Higgins called the Lius at 3 a.m. Tuesday to tell them the man who lives next door to their rental, Robert Durst, had been taken into custody.  Police said a dispute over work done by Durst for the Lius was the apparent motive for the blast.

The Lius said they were completely unaware of Durst's unhappiness following a sewer line replacement last December that took two days.  The Lius showed News10 the invoice from Durst for $1,500.  They said they had deducted about $200 from the bill because Durst kept a rented backhoe a day longer than they had agreed upon.

"He put in a sewer line and I don't know where the dispute is.  He marked it down paid in full," said Chris Liu.  "I was just trying to help him out because he was unemployed.

The invoice showed Durst doing business as R & C Home Improvement.  The California State Contractors License Board website shows Durst does not have a contractor's license.

Sandra Liu said she was first questioned by an arson investigator about her possible involvement in the arson as she arrived at the scene several hours after the blast on July 5.  The investigator asked her to accompany him to fire department headquarters for an interview.

The Lius believe they became serious targets of the investigation after supposed witnesses made false statements placing Chris Liu at the scene the night before the explosion.

Chris Liu, an airline pilot, said he was first questioned by authorities by telephone during a stop in Miami.  He said it was obvious they suspected him of being involved in the crime.

The Lius wondered why anyone would think they would try to destroy the bank repo house they purchased last summer for $38,000.  He said the house had been a strong source of rental income, one of three bank-owned properties in Sacramento they've purchased in the past year.

The couple said they spent nearly $5,000 for an attorney and a private investigator to help clear their names.  The investigator, James Peoples, exposed the false statements and suggested Durst was behind the arson. 

The Lius believe arson investigators finally came to the same conclusion following a two-hour interview with two maintenance men who worked alongside Durst on the sewer line job and had apparently heard Durst talking about his displeasure.

A search warrant was served on Durst's home Monday night and the arrest was made several hours later.

Sandra Liu said she is still trying to sort out the stunning series of events over the past two weeks, including the early-morning phone call letting the Lius know they were officially off the hook. 

"It makes me a little bit sad," she said.  "Investigations go certain ways.  I understand all that.  But we're a victim here, too."

by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net

News10/KXTV

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