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Five years after firefighter Scott Deem's death, suspected arsonist remains jailed

Johnson's bonds total more than $1.2 million as his delayed trial approaches.

SAN ANTONIO — Five years after a raging shopping-center blaze killed firefighter Scott Deem, the business owner suspected of igniting the flames is still behind bars and awaiting his day in court.

That trial date for Emond Johnson, now 43, is currently set for Sept. 12. He is charged with murder and arson in connection with the May 18, 2017 fire along Ingram Road that ripped through multiple businesses, propelled by strong winds and other less-than-ideal conditions. His bonds total more than $1.2 million. 

Two fellow firefighters were also injured while battling the flames, which started at The Spartan Box gym and which Johnson owned at the time. 

Deem, officials later said, was unable to escape the burning building. He was 31 when he died, and continues to be remembered by his wife and children. Just days after he was killed, around 150 firefighters from across Texas arrived in San Antonio to pay tribute

Later, a memorial has since been created outside the west-side fire station where he was assigned. 

Credit: KENS 5
Credit: KENS 5

 A subsequent investigation found there were containers of "petroleum distillate or gasoline" in a storage area at the gym, as well as inconsistencies in Johnson's statements to police. 

He eventually confessed, according to arrest records, saying he started the fire by applying a cigarette lighter from his car to a spilled gasoline/oil mix after falling behind on payments to his facility and receiving several eviction notices. Between the time of the fire and his arrest in the fall of 2017, Johnson had started a GoFundMe account, through which he collected more than $2,000 in donations. 

Johnson's trial has seen delays, due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as early efforts by his legal team to move his trial out of Bexar County, citing "extensive publicity" of the case by local media (those efforts were unsuccessful). 

Efforts in 2020 to reduce Johnson's bond also went for naught; prosecutors called Johnson a flight risk, citing the fact he "has no wife, no home, no job, and, considering the case itself, no reason to stay."

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