Drinking photo of welder who started Ybor City fire angers business owners

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A photo obtained by WFLA 8 On Your Side appears to show welder Robert Shawn Rogers drinking wine and watching firefighters battle the blaze he started, while trying to hang a disco ball at Ybor City’s Amphitheatre Club.

Tampa’s Fire Marshal investigated and on Friday officially said the cause of the fire was accidental, caused by Rogers’ torch and combustibles being too close the ignition source. The spark ignited combustible ceiling spray material, according to the fire marshal. The fire quickly spread from the ceiling to the roof. The fire marshal investigates to determine whether the cause of a fire is arson, according to Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny. That’s where their jurisdiction ends.

A photo obtained by WFLA 8 On Your Side appears to show welder Robert Shawn Rogers drinking wine and watching firefighters battle the blaze he started.
A photo obtained by WFLA 8 On Your Side appears to show welder Robert Shawn Rogers drinking wine and watching firefighters battle the blaze he started.

But, an ‘accident’ does not mean the welder was not negligent or that he followed protocol. These are things left for city code enforcement and building officials to determine.

City administrator Tom Snelling says Rogers did not pull a permit for this job, and he added that he is concerned about other construction Ybor business owners now speak of – such as balcony work – because Rogers is not a licensed contractor.

Business owners tell 8 On Your Side that Rogers was drinking and laughing while the building burned. They are angry. “He takes no responsibility for what he’s done, and all the businesses, and mine too that he affected that night that had to close because of him,” said Kurt King, owner of Hamburger Mary’s.

Rogers is known for roaming Ybor in his unmarked truck, looking for jobs – and working in exchange for vouchers for food and booze. “I’ve seen him drinking on the job. While he’s working, he’ll stop and go get a drink from one of the bars and go right back to welding.” King said.

Yanko Maceda, who owns a cigar business, says he refused to hire Rogers. “I don’t know if he would do all of the necessary things to make sure sparks don’t fly, it looks like it didn’t work out last night,” he said.

8 On Your Side checked out Rogers and he does not have a license to do some of his biggest Ybor jobs, like balcony work. Welders are not required to have a license for most work, however, if the work is structural in nature, or is on a commercial building, that could change requirements.

State officials regulate contractors and are looking into this incident. Meanwhile, city officials are looking into permitting issues and whether Rogers had the correct licenses. 8 On Your Side also found Rogers has a long arrest sheet for charges like cocaine possession, leaving the scene of a crash with injury and grand theft.

“I think for everything you have to have a professional, but for things like that, like electrical and stuff, I want somebody who is a little more responsible,” Maceda said.

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