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Fire, police chiefs agree with decision to end Abou-Arab case

Sergeant’s slip doesn’t stop justice

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    Libby Cheney, sister of Jamie Dickman, a Toledo firefighter killed in a fire in 2014, speaks as Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago, right, and others listen during a news conference at Toledo fire department headquarters.

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    Toledo police Chief George Kral and Toledo Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Karen Marquardt embrace after the trial of Ray Abou-Arab.

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It was one sentence of testimony, following dozens of witnesses’ statements over a week and a half, that brought Ray Abou-Arab’s trial to a halt.

Toledo Fire Chief Luis Santiago recognized it would disrupt due process in the case. And after speaking to the police chief, he doubts anyone feels worse than the testifying sergeant.

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Toledo police Chief George Kral and Toledo Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Karen Marquardt embrace after the trial of Ray Abou-Arab.

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“We’re all human. What he did that day, I’m not for a second going to stand here in judgment of what came out of his mouth,” Chief Santiago said.

RELATED CONTENT: Abou-Arab gets 20 years for arson deaths of two firefighters

The chief was among several city officials, plus a relative of one of two firefighters killed during the Jan. 26, 2014, blaze, who spoke during a news conference Thursday at department headquarters. They expressed acceptance of the court outcome and gratitude for Toledo’s wide support since the fire.

Toledo fire Pvts. Stephen Machcinski, 42, and James Dickman, 31, died while fighting the blaze.

After entering Alford pleas Thursday in Lucas County Common Pleas Court, Abou-Arab, 64, was convicted of two counts of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of aggravated arson for setting fire to his Magnolia Street apartment building. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

That plea followed a mistrial ruling after detective Sgt. Keefe Snyder testified he knew Abou-Arab “had failed a polygraph” examination.

During the news conference, police Chief George Kral said Sergeant Snyder previously testified in hundreds of homicide trials. The sergeant feels horrible about what occurred, and there was no malice or ill will, he said.

VIDEO: Toledo authorities, family member react

Testifying in court is stressful, especially for a case such as this one. When something like this occurs, investigators learn and train on it, the chief said.

“This was not the way we intended this trial to end. As chief of police, I fully recognize and accept full responsibility for what happened in court yesterday,” Chief Kral said. “That being said, the detective sergeant who was on the stand told the truth. However, due to the rule of law, that particular truth was not allowed to be heard in open court.”

The sergeant, through a police spokesman, declined to comment. Spokesman Lt. Joe Heffernan said polygraph tests are useful investigative tools, because they allow detectives to learn more and help gather evidence.

Relatives are grateful for the effort in this case and will work to move forward, said Libby Cheney, Mr. Dickman’s sister.

“We didn’t have the outcome that we were looking for, but we did have an outcome,” she said.

Chief Santiago said although he would have preferred a longer sentence, he accepts the result. Family, prosecutors, police, and fire determined this plea was a better route than a second trial, he said.

The time since this fire has been difficult for members of the department, Chief Santiago said.

“It’s been a huge, huge weight on their shoulders and their hearts. They didn’t miss a beat. They continue to serve the public with a dignity that anybody would expect,” Chief Santiago said.

Abou-Arab showed no remorse throughout the proceedings, Chief Santiago said, and it continued Thursday.

“You know what? He’s going to have a day where he’ll be judged again, and I’m not sure he’s going to fare as well,” Chief Santiago said.

Contact Ryan Dunn at: rdunn@theblade.com, 419-724-6095, or on Twitter @rdunnblade.

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