Hudson Valley Firefighter Burns Down Local Church
A Hudson Valley firefighter set a local church and abandoned garage on fire.
In Ulster County Court, a jury found 30-year-old Michael Watzka Jr., of Kingston guilty of arson and criminal mischief.
On Feb. 22, 2018, firefighters and police responded to a fully involved fire of an abandoned garage located at on John Street in the neighborhood of East Kingston. The building was destroyed, officials say.
Two days later, an abandoned church located at 61 Brigham Street, less than a block from the first fire, was set on fire. The fire was so intense that firefighters had to do a “surround and drown”, pumping thousands of gallons of water into the structure. The flames could be seen for miles. At the height of the fire, the two-story building’s walls collapsed outward nearly crushing several firefighters, according to the Ulster County District Attorney's Office.
The fires were deemed suspicious as there was no electricity connected to either building. Officials also thought it was suspicious that both fires were near each other and occurred days apart.
The Town of Ulster Police began a four-month intensive investigation that led to the arrest of Watzka, a volunteer firefighter for the East Kingston Fire Department.
Watzka was the first responder to each fire and participated in fighting both fires, according to the Ulster County District Attorney's Office.
Watzka made several statements to his then-girlfriend indicating that he wanted to burn the two buildings, officials say. Watzak told his then-girlfriend and friends he “wanted to burn those two buildings” so he would have a “clear line of sight” from his home to the woman's home, according to the Ulster County District Attorney's Office.
He also told allegedly friends that if you want to disguise your footprints, wrap duct tape around your shoes.
The Ulster County Arson Task Force found a beer bottle near the first fire that had Watzka's DNA and found a set of footprints that had duct tape impressions, officials say.
Watzka faces up to 15 years in prison when sentenced.
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