Ex-Volunteer Firefighter Charged in Fatal NY Fire

By: Verena Dobnik AP
By: Verena Dobnik AP

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) - A volunteer firefighter was charged Saturday with setting a fire that ripped through a crowded apartment house, killing a woman and three of her children.

Caleb Lacey, 19, a volunteer member of the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department, set the fire as a staged rescue attempt that went awry, said Nassau County homicide detective Lt. John Azzata.

"The suspected motive is what arson experts call 'hero' or 'vanity' - to be the savior and appear to have saved individuals," he said.

Lacey faces one count of arson and four counts of second-degree murder in the Feb. 19 blaze in the Long Island town of North Lawrence. He was arrested Friday.

Police said Lacey poured gasoline into the building's only staircase and set the fire, then returned to the fire department headquarters. When the call came in, Lacey "was one of the first responders on the fire truck," said Azzata.

Authorities said the fire blocked the main escape route from the building. Killed in the blaze were Morena Vanegas, 46; daughters Susanna Vanegas, 9, and Andrea Vanegas, 13; and son Saul Presa, 19.

Eight other residents, including Vanegas' two other children and their father, escaped through windows.

Hempstead town officials also issued summonses to the building's owners, citing the removal of a fire escape without a permit.
Lacey, of Lawrence, was ordered held without bail. Police did not immediately know if he had a lawyer to speak for him. There was no immediate response to a call to Outreach Church of God in Christ, where Lacey's father is a pastor.

The Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department said Lacey, a probationary member since May 2008, had been suspended.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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