HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) — The owner of the site of a house fire that led to a firefighter’s death nearly a year ago has been charged with aggravated arson and murder.
A Butler County grand jury recently indicted Lester Parker, and he was arrested Monday at a home near the one that went up in flames last Dec. 28, Hamilton police Chief Craig Bucheit said.
Parker, when asked by WLWT-TV as he was being led in handcuffs to a police car whether he committed arson, replied: “Absolutely not.”
Parker, 66, told the Cincinnati television station that authorities need to “find the person that done it.”
Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman, 28, crashed through a floor soon after entering the smoke-filled house and was killed. A coroner ruled the case a homicide and said Wolterman died of smoke inhalation.
He “died in the line of duty fighting to save lives believed at risk,” county prosecutor Mike Gmoser said in a statement.
Firefighters thought there could be people trapped inside but later were told the residents were on vacation.
Bucheit said the investigation continues and he expects more arrests. He declined to discuss a motive in the case.
Uniformed firefighters from across the country were among thousands of people who turned out for a procession and the funeral for Wolterman, the first Hamilton firefighter killed in the line of duty since 1971.
Authorities in the city of 62,000 residents announced in January that the house fire had been ruled arson and that Wolterman’s death was being investigated as a homicide. State fire marshal’s investigators and the investigators from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined local investigators in the probe.
A $25,000 reward was offered, but Bucheit said no one had claimed it.
The murder charge carries a potential sentence of 15 years to life upon conviction; aggravated arson carries a potential maximum term of 11 years.