2008-02-08 / Front Page

Psych Test For Neilson Street Arsonist

One Year Later, No Court Date, Building Still In Limbo
By Miriam Rosenberg

One year ago last week, Marcello McDonald allegedly used rags and gasoline to accelerate the burning of his girlfriend's clothes in an effort to get her out of the Neilson Street apartment the two shared as squatters, police say.

Firefighters work to extinguish the arson fire at 1056 Nielson Street a year ago last week. Firefighters work to extinguish the arson fire at 1056 Nielson Street a year ago last week. The residents of the building at 1056 Neilson Street had to flee into a night in which the temperature hovered around 30-degrees and the winds blew at more than 20 mph, only to watch as the six-alarm fire destroyed their home on the night of February 3, 2007.

Though McDonald was arrested in March of last year, a trial date has yet to be set.

At his most recent court appearance last month, McDonald was ordered by a Supreme Court Judge to undergo a psychiatric examination, a spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown told The Wave this week.

"The exam is to see if he is competent to stand trial," said the spokesperson. "Sometime after the doctor hands in his report, prosecutors can ask to cross-examine the doctor." Experts say that the psych exam may well put off the trial for several months - if he is declared competent to stand trial.

Many firefighters used nearby rooftops to flood water into the burning building. Many firefighters used nearby rooftops to flood water into the burning building. Shortly after the blaze, fire marshals established the cause as arson. They began looking for McDonald, who was squatting in apartment 5H with his girlfriend, Sandra Brown, at the time of the fire.

He has since been charged with two counts of burglary - in the first degree and second degree; arson in the second degree; criminal mischief in the second degree; criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree and assault in the second degree.

"He was angry with her for doing her thing - drugs and prostitution - in the apartment," a Fire Department source told The Wave. "Whenever he got her angry, she would find another man to have sex with and let him know about it."

Sources told this newspaper last March that McDonald's only intention was to get Brown out of the apartment. "He didn't mean to burn everybody out or destroy the building."

The morning after the devastating fire, refugees take their meager belongings from Middle School 53 on Nameoke Street, where many of them spent the night. Red Cross workers provided blankets and clothing to the 120 residents who were driven out into the cold night by the arson fire. The morning after the devastating fire, refugees take their meager belongings from Middle School 53 on Nameoke Street, where many of them spent the night. Red Cross workers provided blankets and clothing to the 120 residents who were driven out into the cold night by the arson fire. His next court date is February 15. If the report by the court ordered doctor is ready by mid-February, sources say, a determination could be made at that time.

In the meantime, McDonald is being held without bail at the Otis Bantum Correctional Center in East Elmhurst. If convicted, McDonald could face up to 25 years in prison.

While McDonald sits in jail, the building he is accused of torching has remained vacant.

After the fire the Department of Buildings (DOB) issued an order for all occupants to vacate the building because of unsafe conditions, an agency spokesperson said.

Following that, the DOB issued permits for the owner's contractor to perform emergency work to shore up the six-floor apartment building and remove the top bulkhead façade at the site.

Evacuees from the building fire huddle in the cold, wrapped in Red Cross blankets during the fire. Evacuees from the building fire huddle in the cold, wrapped in Red Cross blankets during the fire. "In November 2007, an application was filed with the Buildings Department to perform interior demolition work and replace non-bearing partitions and windows that were damaged during the fire and firefighting operations," said Carly Sullivan, a spokesperson for the DOB, last week. "The Buildings Department approved the application on January 16, 2008. However, the owner's contractor has yet to come into the department to [activate] the permit."

The Wave was unable to contact the site's owner, Horizon Realty Company. According to records at the city's Department of Finance, Horizon Realty took sole ownership of the building in October after having joint ownership with Fourth National Corporation since 1984.

Joseph Hametz, of Joseph Euro Builders, confirmed that he is the builder for the site, but he said no decision has been made on what to do with the burned-out structure. He refused to answer any other questions.

A lone air conditioner is one of the only signs that more than 100 people once called the apartments at 1056 Neilson Street home. A lone air conditioner is one of the only signs that more than 100 people once called the apartments at 1056 Neilson Street home. More than 50 FDNY units, 250 firefighters, EMS workers and numerous Red Cross personnel responded to the blaze. The tragedy left more than 120 people, including 46 children, without a place to live. Twenty firefighters were among the approximately 30 people who suffered minor injuries that night.

Scaffolding surrounds the partially boarded up building. Builders have not yet decided what to do with the burned out structure. Photos by Miriam Rosenberg Scaffolding surrounds the partially boarded up building. Builders have not yet decided what to do with the burned out structure. Photos by Miriam Rosenberg A photo from the back of the building shows moss growing on the structure's exterior and the light through the sixth floor windows are evidence of the collapse of the roof. A photo from the back of the building shows moss growing on the structure's exterior and the light through the sixth floor windows are evidence of the collapse of the roof.

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