We Did It For 'Weed'
One of the boys charged in connection with the fire that tore through a residential/commercial property on Rockaway Beach Boulevard told authorities he and a friend were doing a favor in return for marijuana, according to papers filed in the office of the Queens District Attorney.
Daniel Ortiz, 16, and Shawn Williams, 16, who both live at the St. John's Residence for Boys, were arrested July 14. They are charged with second degree arson, first degree reckless endangerment and second degree criminal mischief following the July 9 two-alarm fire at 112-16 Rockaway Beach Boulevard.
Fire Marshall Louis Pecora reported that both boys made statements after their arrest. Ortiz and Williams told authorities they helped their friends Craig Tucker and Jennifer Borland move from the apartment, where the fire would later start, to a new place on Long Island. Ortiz said Tucker asked the two boys to go back to the Rockaway apartment and trash the place, in exchange for "weed."
According to the papers filed with the DA, Williams told the authorities that Tucker asked him to burn down the apartment and that he did return and set the couch on fire, using a lighter.
Christos Kakoulas, a Greek immigrant and marine surveyor living in Brooklyn, is the owner of the property. He told The Wave that he had been trying to evict Tucker and Borland for more than six months. Kakoulas said they stopped paying rent after he refused to sign papers that would have allowed them to fraudulently collect government benefits.
At press time, it was not clear if Tucker and/or Borland would be sought for prosecution, but a source at the DA's office confirmed that the matter was still under investigation.
At least two eyewitnesses came forward following the blaze that jeopardized the lives of several tenants and firefighters, and told investigators they saw two males enter the building just before and exit shortly after the fire started. The witnesses later identified Ortiz and Williams.
"We find this very regrettable," said Brother Tom Trager, Executive Director of St. John's Residence for Boys. Trager called the incident "a shame" but said it is not a result of security or supervisory shortcomings at the home.
No one was seriously injured in the fire, but Kakoulas described the property as "badly destroyed."
Kakoulas said he was "very bitter" at the "system," which he said protects bad tenants while not doing enough for property investors.
At their July 15 arraignment before Queens Criminal Court Judge Lopez, bail for both boys was set at $25,000. Ortiz is being represented by private attorney Dan Gutman; Williams attorney is Mihea Kim of the Legal Aide Society. Their next court date will be in July 29.