State

Eatery arson suspect is owner

TURLOCK -- Police said Friday that a man suspected of starting a fire that gutted a landmark restaurant is one of its owners.

Turlock resident Tracy Smith, 27, is the same man listed on public records as an owner of The Red Steer Restaurant, along with other family members, Sgt. Russ Holeman said.

A Turlock relative of Smith's -- Jeremy Britt, 23 -- also was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of arson, police said.

Britt was sentenced in 2005 to 16 months in state prison for arson in Kern County, records show.

Police said they had a motive for the suspected arson, but would not elaborate. Holeman said police found evidence at the scene and took witness statements that led to the arrests.

A civil lawsuit filed last month suggests The Red Steer was facing money problems.

A creditor is suing Smith and The Red Steer because a $20,000 check written in October bounced, according to court documents. A trial is set for June 2010 in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

In a story that appeared in The Bee on May 29, Scott Soiseth said he and his wife operated the restaurant with their son and daughter, Tracy Smith and Shae Smith. Police clarified that Tracy Smith is the Soiseths' son-in-law.

The fire occurred at 4:15 a.m. May 28. It took firefighters about two hours to bring it under control.

Fire Battalion Chief Gary Lunsford estimated damage to the restaurant at $1 million. The fire destroyed the restaurant's roof and interior.

The Red Steer, on Golden State Boulevard near Main Street, drew a loyal crowd for its roast beef, tri-tip and pastrami sandwiches.

Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Sharon Silva, whose office is next door, said the restaurant had been around for about 40 years.

Police ask anyone with information about this crime to contact Detective Jason Tosta at 668-5550, ext. 6654, or Crime Stoppers at 521-4636.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337.

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