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Vowing to “bring justice” to the firefighters who were killed and injured at a North Toledo apartment fire Jan. 26, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said a grand jury’s decision to seek the death penalty for the alleged arsonist is appropriate.
Ray Abou-Arab, the owner of the Magnolia Street property, was indicted Friday on two counts of aggravated murder each with death penalty specifications, two counts of murder, eight counts of aggravated arson, and one count of tampering with evidence stemming from the fire that killed Toledo Fire Pvts. Stephen Machcinski and James Dickman and injured three other firefighters.
“If you look at drug robberies, bar robberies, husband-wife domestic crimes, and then you look at an arson where in the middle of a Sunday afternoon where people live and firemen die, it’s just very, very difficult to understand how anyone could ever do that,” Mrs. Bates said. “It’s a pain in my heart. And it’s a pain in the heart of everyone who lives in our community and in our state and our country. We saw this on CNN — other people and places are hurting from this.”
Mr. Abou-Arab, 61, of 1311 Sierra Dr. has been in the Lucas County jail on $5 million bond since Jan. 31 when he was arrested at his Oregon home on two counts each of aggravated murder and aggravated arson that were filed in Toledo Municipal Court. Those charges allege he entered a garage at the Magnolia Street building, spent more than a minute inside, then exited and went inside the Huron Market, which is connected to the apartments.
“Immediately” after he left the garage, the charges allege, the resident of the rear apartment next to the garage spotted a burning wall and called 911. After the deadly fire, investigators said they found “an ignitable liquid” inside the garage.
Mrs. Bates declined to comment on any of the specific evidence, saying that would come out as the case unfolds in court.
Jeff Lingo, chief of the criminal division for the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, said the eight counts of aggravated arson were brought for the two firefighters who died that day, three other firefighters who were injured, and for the three occupants of the two apartments “above and behind the garage” where the fire allegedly was set.
Asked whether prosecutors considered seeking attempted murder charges for other occupants or firefighters who responded, Mrs. Bates said they could have, but chose not to.
“We should be reasonable in the way that we do our jobs, and I’m sure the grand jurors were wise and reasonable in what they decided to do,” she said. “So many people were in harm’s way in this matter that we could go on and on probably with too many counts.”
Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago declined to speak directly about the charges or the death penalty specifications, but reiterated his department’s pledge to provide support to the prosecutor, the judicial process, and the families of Privates Machcinski and Dickman.
“We — myself and the department — are going to exercise great discipline and restraint and let the process work,” the chief said. “This is going to be a long process. We know that. We understand that.”
He said it would not be helpful to become emotional as the process plays out.
“When we’re asked to contribute, support, or participate, we’re ready to do what is asked of us,” Chief Santiago added. “The prosecutor’s office is in charge. We’re here to support them and support the families.”
He declined to identify the three firefighters who were injured in the fire, citing privacy concerns. Two of the injured suffered burns, Chief Santiago said, although none of the injuries was “major” and all three have returned to work.
Until Friday, there were no death penalty cases pending in Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
The indictment against Mr. Abou-Arab seeks the death penalty on two grounds: for the purposeful killing of two or more persons and for an offense committed while committing aggravated arson.
One of the other grounds for seeking the death penalty in Ohio is the purposeful killing of a law enforcement officer. While firefighters are not considered law enforcement officers under the law, Mrs. Bates said “the heroic nature of a fireman” makes this situation “pathetically sad.”
“We’ll do our best to bring justice to those families and all those firemen and their families who feel so terrible about what happened here,” she said.
Contact Jennifer Feehan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-213-2134.