Two men who were arrested last month for allegedly setting two major fires in Norwich earlier this year were charged this morning with setting two additional fires in the city involving occupied homes.
Jonathan O. Ortiz, 24 and Nicholas R. Faquet, 19, both of Norwich, each were charged with two counts of first-degree arson and two counts of first-degree criminal mischief when they were presented in New London Superior Court today on the earlier charges.
In the latest cases, the two men are accused of using gasoline and matches to set fire to an occupied home at 124 Laurel Hill Ave. on March 22 and to a pickup truck at 500 West Main St. on March 1. The pickup truck fire extended to an occupied home, where six residents were sleeping, according to police.
According to arrest warrant affidavits, Ortiz allegedly enlisted Faquet to help him set the Laurel Hill Avenue fire because he suspected his girlfriend was going to that building to cheat on him. He is accused of enlisting Faquet to help him set fire to pickup truck because he said one of the people who lived there owed him money for drugs. Though the residents of the building escaped safely, two family pets, a bird and a dog, perished in the fire.
The Laurel Hill Avenue building is owned and operated by the Reliance House and used as a clubhouse for activities for the agency's mentally handicapped clients.
Staff members told police they were locking up the building for the night when they heard a strange noise in the back of the building and noticed the second-story porch was on fire. The fire was spreading rapidly to the inside of the building when firefighters arrived. Damages were estimated at $20,000.
Ortiz and Faquet had been charged last month, along with two others, with torching a vacant house at 7-9 Oak St. and to setting fire to a home at 11 Lake St. Those two fires displaced more than two dozen people, caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages and resulted in two firefighters being injured.
The others charged with setting the Oak Street and Lake Street fires are Laura MacDonald, a 45-year-old woman who has previous arson convictions, and 18-year-old Matthew Markham.
All four of the arson defendants are being held in lieu of bond and made their first appearances this morning in the New London courtroom where major crimes are tried. They were all appointed public defenders. Judge Patrick J. Clifford entered not guilty pleas and continued their cases.
City Fire Chief Kenneth Scandariato said in a recent interview that the Norwich Arson Task Force, comprised of local fire officials and police officers and state and local fire marshals, has been gaining ground on the city's arson problem. He said the people who have been setting the fires seem to be part of a loosely knit group centered downtown. For the most part, they are in the same age group - late teens to mid-20s - and they all know each other.