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A tool shed atop the roof of a building in Chatan, Okinawa, was damaged by a fire, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023.

A tool shed atop the roof of a building in Chatan, Okinawa, was damaged by a fire, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. (Keishi Koja/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – A U.S. airman on Okinawa accused of stealing the equivalent of $8 from a vehicle in mid-January is also suspected of starting a tool shed fire the same night, a Japanese police spokesman said Tuesday.

Staff Sgt. Mason Laubach, 27, of Kadena Air Base, has been in Okinawa city police custody since his arrest at 7:54 a.m. Jan. 15, after a Chatan resident alleged Laubach took 1,000 yen from a vehicle, a spokesman for Okinawa prefectural police told Stars and Stripes by phone.

On Jan. 16, police forwarded a theft charge against Laubach to the Naha District Prosecutors Office, according to a spokeswoman there. She said police added an illegal entry charge on Monday that alleges Laubach had entered a two-story building a quarter-mile from the theft scene.

Prosecutors have yet to indict Laubach on any charge.

A tool shed atop the roof of a building in Chatan, Okinawa, was damaged by a fire, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023.

A tool shed atop the roof of a building in Chatan, Okinawa, was damaged by a fire, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. (Keishi Koja/Stars and Stripes)

Laubach, still in jail, was also formally rearrested Monday on suspicion of illegal entry. Rearresting Laubach on a separate charge permits police to hold and interrogate him another 10 to 20 days.

Officers found items belonging to Laubach on the building’s roof, where a tool shed burned down that night, according to the city police spokesman. He said the fire is still under investigation.

The tools and drills inside the shed were a near total loss, a Nirai Fire Department spokesman said Wednesday.

Government spokespeople in Japan are routinely required to speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

A Breathalyzer test on Jan. 15 measured Laubach’s blood-alcohol content at 0.12%, four times Japan’s legal driving limit of 0.03%, the city police spokesman said.

Roughly 30 minutes before police received the theft report, the Nirai Fire Department responded to a possible fire in the same area, the fire department spokesman said. He said a witness reported lots of smoke and someone fleeing the area. The fire was out by 7:14 a.m.

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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.
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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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