PAWTUCKET — Following an intensive police and fire investigation, two city men were arrested for allegedly setting the fire that destroyed a six-unit apartment house at 35 Vale St. on Wednesday morning.
On Thursday, Pawtucket police arrested Raymond B. Gyamfi, 21, of 181 Magill St., Pawtucket, and Jeremy Lopes, 22, of 103 Samuel Ave., also of Pawtucket. Police Major Arthur Martins said that the arrests were made by the Pawtucket Police with assistance from the Central Falls and Providence Police Departments. He added that the investigation is continuing.
According to Martins, Gyamfi, who had been wanted by Pawtucket Police since late December as a suspect in a home invasion that occurred at the same address as the fire, was captured at a house on Emerson Street in Providence. Lopes was apprehended at an address on Cross Street in Central Falls.
Gyamfi and Lopes were both arraigned in Providence's Sixth District Court on Friday afternoon.
Gyamfi was charged with burglary from the home invasion that occurred on Dec. 6, 2010; second degree child abuse from an incident that took place on Jan. 7, and first degree arson, intimidation of a witness and conspiracy to commit first degree arson in regard to the Feb. 16 fire at 35 Vale St. He was additionally charged with being a fugitive from justice from the Attleboro Police Department stemming from his alleged involvement in an armed robbery of Looney Tunes Auto Sales last October.
Lopes is being charged with first degree arson, conspiracy to commit first degree arson and intimidation of a witness, also stemming from the Vale Street fire.
Because arson is a capital (non-bailable) offense, both Gyamfi and Lopes were ordered held without bail at the Adult Correctional Institution and both face violation hearings that are scheduled for next month.
Martins said that Gyamfi had been eluding police by living wherever he could at various addresses since a warrant had been issued for his arrest. Gyamfi was believed to have been one of three men who burst into the second floor apartment of Bennert Agyemang at 35 Vale St. on Dec. 6. The three reportedly threatened Agyemang with a handgun and stole several laptop computers that were in the apartment.
Two of the suspects, Joao Dossantos, 22, and Tony Reverdes, 29, were arrested back in December, but Gyamfi had remained at large. In the meantime, Martins said, on Jan. 7, Gyamfi was also accused of striking a two-year-old child belonging to a woman he was staying with in an apartment on Mineral Spring Avenue.
Agyeman was reportedly at a Superior Court hearing related to the two home invasion suspects at the time the fire was set at his home.
Regarding the Vale Street fire, Martins said that an investigation by state and city fire officials showed that the fire had apparently originated in Agyeman's second floor apartment. He said there was evidence that some type of accelerant had been used in the hallway outside of the apartment that had then been ignited. The blaze, which was noticed by another tenant at around 10:55 a.m., raced through the second and third floors, destroying most of the apartment house.
Pawtucket Fire Chief William Sisson said that Capt. Steven Parent, who is the city's fire marshal, and other members of the fire department had worked with the State Fire Marshal's office on the investigation. He added that the Massachusetts State Police had been contacted to bring in a dog who is trained to detect arson. The dog had sniffed out several areas of the apartment house where evidence of accelerant was found. He said they are still awaiting the results of laboratory tests to identify the type of accelerant involved.
Many of the tenants were not home at the time of the fire, and those who were managed to escape, but a dog and a kitten perished. The apartment house was rendered uninhabitable, so all 12 of the tenants had to find alternative places to live.
Harvey Goulet, who owned the apartment house, said he was happy to hear that police had made arrests in the case, and hoped that the suspects “would get their due.” He noted that the fire had caused tremendous hardship for all of the tenants, several of whom were elderly and had medical problems.
“To walk in a house like that in broad daylight and do that...it's a terrible thing. And by trying to scare one guy, it affected the lives of the 12 people who lived there,” Goulet said.
Goulet said the Rhode Island Red Cross was being very helpful in providing assistance and the Pawtucket Housing Authority had also stepped in to relocate one of the tenants who had qualified for Section 8 housing. He noted, however, that while he had insurance on the apartment house, none of the tenants had private rental insurance, so their furniture and belongings were simply a financial loss.
Goulet noted that the Vale Street apartment house has been in his family for over 60 years, and that some of his tenants, like Marguerite Platt and her daughter, Virginia, had lived at the house for decades. Virginia Platt, he said, used to babysit his two daughters years ago when he and his wife occupied a second floor apartment.
Goulet added that Agyemang had come to live in the second floor apartment because he was in a relationship with a woman whose mother was one of his longtime, third-floor tenants. “A wonderful tenant,” noted Goulet, of the mother. Agyemang and the woman were the parents of two young children and the couple had recently reconciled after a break-up, he said.
He added that after conversations with the city's building inspector, there are concerns that the apartment house might have to be torn down. “My mother and father lived there, I lived there, my brother lived there,” said Goulet. “This has had a real negative effect on me.”