Man accused of torching vacant Schenectady home, injuring 2
Updated 10:15 p.m.
SCHENECTADY Authorites say a city man set a fire that destroyed a house in the Vale neighborhood and injured two firefighters Wednesday.
Matthew O. Tolliver, 25, of Foster Avenue, was charged Wednesday evening with third-degree arson and two counts of second-degree assault.
He is accused of using a lighter to set combustibles on fire just before noon Wednesday at 22 Mynderse St. The flames spread and gutted the structure, and what remained of it was torn down Wednesday evening.
Authorities located him with the help of witnesses, street surveillance cameras and interviews. A street camera showed Tolliver going into the home just before the fire broke out, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said.
The assault counts against Tolliver relate to injuries suffered by two firefighters at the scene: a burn to the hand of Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco and a groin injury suffered by firefighter Michael Komazenski. Both were treated at Ellis Hospital. Della Rocco said Thursday his concerns were not with his own injury but with Komazenski’s, which was more serious and may require surgery.
The chief said the damage to his hand was comparatively minor, a second-degree burn.
Tolliver’s connection to the house was through a friend who lived there, Bennett said. All tenants in the building were supposed to have vacated last month due to city code violations related to sanitary and living conditions inside the house, but the friend was still in the process of moving out. The furniture and garbage bags outside the house at the time of the fire were his.
The friend is not a suspect in the fire, Bennett said. The two went to the home together Wednesday morning and left, but Tolliver returned on his own later and set the fire. Police did not divulge a motive.
Tolliver gave a statement to investigators, Bennett said.
Further charges, including burglary, are possible, Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said. Authorities will also look at whether Tolliver was involved in any other fires, though Carney said there was nothing to indicate that Thursday.
Helping make the arrest was the local arson task force, officials said. The task force focuses the efforts of various law enforcement agencies to solve arsons. Della Rocco credited the effort with helping make 30 arrests so far, of both adults and youths.
Bennett said the effort has two main goals:
“The biggest message is No. 1, we are going to use all the resources possible to conclude it,” Bennett said, “but No. 2 [is] to reassure the people that live in the areas of these fires that we do attach great importance to it and our goal is to give them peace of mind.”