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Bruce P. “Bruno” Hayn Sr., who led two volunteer efforts to rebuild homes destroyed by fire, pleaded no contest Monday to setting fire to his Norwich business on Oct. 27, 2011.
Hayn, 57, will be sentenced July 9 to up to two years in prison.
In pleading nolo contendere to third-degree arson, Hayn accepted an offer from the state involving a sentence of eight years in prison, suspended after two years served, followed by four years of probation. Under the plea deal, his lawyer, Patrick Tomasiewicz, has the right to argue for a shorter prison term at sentencing.
Hayn, a building contractor, was the owner and operator of Shur Fire, a company that sold wood stoves and products and pellet fuels located at 340 W. Thames St. in Norwich.
According to prosecutor Lawrence J. Tytla, Hayn put a wad of paper towels into an electrical panel to ignite the fire that caused extensive damage to the two-story, 9,000-square-foot building.
Investigators recovered surveillance video that showed Hayn in the ground-floor warehouse where the fire originated with paper towels in hand and showed him leaving the building with smoke and particulates in the air, according to Tytla.
Hayn initially said he was operating a forklift earlier that night when he accidentally backed into an electrical panel, heard a crackle and saw smoke. He later confessed to setting the fire, saying he wanted to cause enough damage to shut down the business, Tytla said. The confession was recorded by Norwich police.
City and state fire marshals had initially ruled that the fire was accidental and possibly was caused by an abnormality in an electrical control box. Travelers Insurance initiated its own investigation, due to an estimated claim of more than $600,000, and found that the control box was not electrically charged at the time of the fire. The insurer also recovered the surveillance video. The state fire marshal’s office reinvestigated and ruled the fire was intentionally set.
The insurance claim is part of a civil lawsuit.
Hayn was a longtime member of Colchester’s Board of Finance. As president of Home Designs by Bruno, he led a team during the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” project in Voluntown in December 2008 and a year later was part of a volunteer effort to rebuild a family’s house in Griswold that had been destroyed by fire. In 2009, Hayn was presented the Distinguished Service Award by the Builders Association of Eastern Connecticut as well as the Toastmasters International Communication and Leadership award.
At Monday’s court proceedings, Hayn’s attorney noted Hayn was never arrested before. Judge Hillary B. Strackbein, who will determine the length of his prison stint, said she knew that and has read several letters written on Hayn’s behalf. She also noted that the case was serious in nature.