NY Firefighter Convicted of Arson

A volunteer firefighter in New York has been convicted of burning two buildings that stood between his house and the house of his then-girl friend, so he could have a clear line of sight.

Michael Watzka Jr., 30, was convicted last week by an Ulster County jury of two felonies, third-degree arson and third-degree criminal mischief, and a single misdemeanor charge of arson. He was a member of the East Kingston Fire Department at the time, and fought both fires.

The first fire occurred on February 22, 2018 and destroyed an abandoned garage that was next door to his girl-friend’s house. On February 24, 2018, the second fire destroyed the East Kingston Methodist Church, which was less than a block from the first fire.

Watzka’s DNA was found on a beer bottle at the first fire. He was also observed placing evidence in a trash can linking him to the crimes. Prosecutors claim Watzka made incriminating statements, including about wanting to burn the buildings to have the clear line of sight.

The jury took just two hours to deliberate before rendering the verdict. Watzka will be sentenced in Ulster County Court on September 6, 2019. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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