'I feel kind of sorry for him,' says man who tried to stop Whyte Avenue arsonist

Nick Davies didn't hesitate when he saw a man trying to set cars on fire near Whyte Avenue. He called police, then pursued the arsonist.

Malice Sutton pleaded guilty Thursday to four criminal charges in provincial court

Nick Davies says he has no regrets about trying to stop an arsonist in April 2019. (Nick Davies)

Nick Davies didn't hesitate when he saw a man trying to set cars on fire near Whyte Avenue.

He called police, then pursued the arsonist. 

"It just seemed like the natural thing to do," Davies said. 

On Thursday, Malice Sutton pleaded guilty to four criminal charges in provincial court in Edmonton. He admitted to possession of an explosive device, two counts of arson and assault with a weapon. 

Davies is the one he assaulted. The weapons Sutton used were a jerry can of gasoline and a lighter.

Court was told Sutton, 23, was "full of despair" on the evening of April 12, 2019. He had been homeless and unemployed for several months and "was suffering from declining mental health."

This video posted by user spincrisis on Reddit shows the arrest of suspect who allegedly damaged 13 vehicles on Whyte Avenue Friday night. 3:34

Instead of buying steel-toed boots that day to better his chances of getting a job, Sutton spent his money on vodka and drank "a substantial amount."  

"He became suicidal but decided he lacked the courage to kill himself and settled instead on a plan to damage other people's property," according to an agreed statement of facts.

Sutton bought $10 worth of gas at an Esso station on Whyte Avenue just after 6 p.m. that day. Hours later, he went into a back alley and made three Molotov cocktails. After throwing two of them, he left the alley and began pouring gas on vehicles, then setting them on fire. 

Davies tried to intervene and chased after Sutton along the sidewalk, according to the agreed statement of facts.

As he got closer, Sutton poured gasoline on the sidewalk between them and "flicked" gas towards Davies. The gas ignited and created a fire barrier between the two men.

"I was having to flank around him to catch him and move around on him," Davies told CBC News. "But I didn't actually grab him or anything like that. I was trying to avoid getting burned."

Davies was not hurt. 

The bizarre crime was captured on video and went viral.

Malice Sutton, 23, will be sentenced in November after pleading guilty to four criminal charges. (Instagram/Malice Sutton )

Almost four months later, Davies said he has no regrets about getting involved.  

"The element of danger was obviously there," he said, "but I didn't really think it was that dangerous. That's probably counter-intuitive, because he was setting cars on fire. But I just had the intuition that he wasn't really actually serious about harming anybody. And I don't think he was, at the end of the day."

When Davies was told about Sutton's state of mind that night, he expressed sympathy.

"I feel kind of sorry for him," Davies said. "I'm glad he pleaded guilty and is owning up to the responsibility and is being open and up-front about his suicidal feelings," Davies said.

"I hope he does have a better life, post this event, and he can use it as a way to frame things in his own emotional well-being." 

Sutton has been in custody since the night of the arsons. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 8, 2019.

About the Author

Janice Johnston is an award-winning journalist in Edmonton who has covered the courts and crime for more than two decades. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @cbcjanjohnston