Ohio state fire marshall Tom Huston displays one of the cards arson investigators leave at the scene of a suspicious fire to urge witnesses, such as Robbie Ward, of Fostoria, to come forward with information needed to arrest and charge arsonists.
FOSTORIA - Robbie Ward says he's no hero, but the state of Ohio thinks otherwise.
Yesterday, the state fire marshal's office gave Mr. Ward a $1,500 check and the thanks of safety and law enforcement officials for his role in helping authorities arrest and convict the man who started a fire in 2002 that killed two people in a downtown rooming house.
Benjamin Greeno, 26, is serving nine years for causing the blaze, which burned down the Doeshire Inn and caused the deaths of Jamese Williamson, 4, and Richard Rayle, 84. The early-morning fire on July 4 started when Greeno, who was smoking crack cocaine, discarded a match in a second-floor restroom bin full of paper.
Tom Huston, chief of the fire marshal's investigations bureau, said Mr. Ward told police he had seen Greeno outside the building shortly before the fire began. Mr. Ward, who was visiting friends, noticed smoke a short time later and ran through the building alerting residents.
He then ran to the police station nearby to summon help.
"If Mr. Ward had not come forward, we would have had no suspects because most of the people who lived in the building were transients," Mr. Huston said. "I think the facts speak for themselves, that without this person coming forward, this case would probably have gone unsolved."
Mr. Ward, a 37-year-old Fostoria resident, said he never had any second thoughts about cooperating with authorities or staying to help others escape.
"I feel bad for the people who lost their family members," he said. "Any normal person would have done what I did."
Mr. Ward said he didn't know Greeno by name but recognized him as someone he had seen around the Doeshire before. He described the man to police and confirmed his identity by picking Greeno out of a lineup.
"We kind of put two and two together," Mr. Ward said.
Within days of the fire, Greeno was arrested and confessed to his role in the blaze, police said. The judge at his trial refused a defense request to suppress statements Greeno made to police, a ruling upheld by the Third District Court of Appeals.
The Ohio Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Greeno, who has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that his Miranda rights were violated during his interrogation.
Mr. Houston said 15 people escaped the fire, including five rescued by Fostoria firefighters. The 100-year-old building burned so quickly that authorities had to spend $14,000 shoring it up so fire investigators could safely enter the structure to hunt for clues.
"There should be four more people dead," Mr. Houston said. "These firefighters risked their lives to save those people."
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