House owner pleads not guilty in Ohio firefighter’s death


HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) — The owner of property where a house fire led to an Ohio firefighter’s death nearly a year ago pleaded not guilty Tuesday to aggravated arson and murder.

A Butler County judge Tuesday set bond at $500,000 for Lester Parker, 66. Hamilton police arrested him Monday at a home near the one that went up in flames last December. Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman, 28, crashed through a floor soon after entering the smoke-filled house and died.

A coroner ruled the case a homicide.

Parker denied responsibility. He told WLWT-TV of Cincinnati on Monday that authorities need to “find the person that done it.”

His attorney, Richard Hyde, said in court that Parker is a lifelong resident of Hamilton who has health issues. Members of Wolterman’s family and some of his fellow firefighters were in the courtroom for Tuesday’s arraignment. Wolterman was the first Hamilton firefighter killed in the line of duty since 1971.

Wolterman “died in the line of duty fighting to save lives believed at risk,” county prosecutor Mike Gmoser said in a statement Monday after Parker’s arrest. Firefighters had thought there could be people trapped inside but later were told the residents were on vacation.

Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit said the investigation continues and he expects more arrests. He declined to discuss a motive in the case.

There will be pretrial hearing Dec. 19.

The murder charge carries a potential sentence of 15 years to life upon conviction. Aggravated arson carries a maximum of 11 years.