Arson charges filed after 2 years
Chief Brian Markovchick (left) and Sgt. Michael Bogart of Weatherly Police Department discuss a two-year investigation into an arson in the borough. The department filed charges against two suspects this week. One is still at large. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
Weatherly Police have filed charges against two men accused of setting an August 2016 fire that caused more than $1 million in damage and left six people homeless.
During a news conference on Friday, Sgt. Michael Bogart announced the department is charging two suspects with setting the blaze, which occurred around 2:40 a.m. on Aug. 6, 2016.
David Alzugaray-Lugones, 49, and Felix Larrinaga-Sanchez, 45, face arson and conspiracy charges in connection with the alleged arson, which started on the porch of a home at 234 Third St. in the borough.
No one was seriously hurt in the blaze. Property damage resulting from the blaze totaled more than $1 million.
“This fire quickly spread to two neighboring homes, leaving two innocent families homeless, and causing substantial damage to four other homes,” said Brian Markovchick, Weatherly Police Chief.
Alzugaray-Lugones formerly owned the house, but sold it to his employers, Roberto Torner and Liza Robles, in 2014. Torner collected $245,000 in an insurance payout from the blaze. As a result of the investigation he now faces federal drug and weapons charges, but Weatherly Police have not charged him in connection with the fire.
The house was vacant at the time, but the fire quickly spread to the surrounding homes, which were occupied.
Bogart said the investigation zeroed in on the two suspects because surveillance footage and eyewitness accounts placed them near the scene of the fire.
He said the rapid spread of the fire led investigators to believe it was arson from the start. ATF investigated and found evidence that an accelerant was used to start the fire, but they couldn’t determine exactly what it was.
Bogart and Markovchick credited officer Vince Morrow, who risked his life to wake the sleeping residents in a neighboring home which was destroyed by the fire. Morrow, who was on the scene of the fire within two minutes of the initial 911 call, also disconnected propane tanks outside the houses so it was less likely that they would catch fire.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Larrinaga-Sanchez. If he is found anywhere in the United States, he will be extradited back to Carbon County to face charges.
Alzugaray-Lugones is currently jailed on federal drug charges after a raid which occurred in Freeland borough last August.
Bogart said Alzugaray-Lugones and Larrinaga-Sanchez were employed as handymen by Roberto Torner and Liza Robles, who owned the house through an LLC. They said they don’t know the possible motives of the accused arsonists, because Alzugaray-Lugones has not cooperated with the investigation.
“We’re still working through the motive. We have some ideas, but nothing solid yet,” Bogart said.
Bogart said Robles and Torner did make an insurance claim worth more than $200,000 on the property, which the insurance company paid out.
Police received a break in the case in January when they interviewed a man who admitted to driving Alzugaray-Lugones and Larrinaga-Sanchez to and from the fire. The alleged driver told police that he dropped the men a few blocks from the house just before the fire took place. He said when they left the vehicle that Larrinaga-Sanchez was carrying a garbage bag containing something metallic. When the two men returned to the vehicle, they reportedly smelled like fuel.
The driver also told police that later on Aug. 6, 2016, he was summoned to meet with Robles, Torner, and Alzugaray in Torner’s SUV which was parked in Freeland.
He said Torner told him to alter the appearance of his vehicle, a white Mitsubishi Eclipse with a wing, because of its distinct appearance, or else Torner would ‘torch’ it.
Torner also told him that Larrinaga-Sanchez had fled town.
According to property records, Alzugaray-Lugones previously owned the property but sold it to Getaway Rental Properties LLC, which is believed to be operated by Torner and Robles, in 2014 for $20,000.
During the investigation police filed assault charges against Alzugaray, but were forced to drop charges after the victim did not cooperate.
Torner and Robles are not facing charges in the arson, but they are set to go to trial on federal charges which came about after last year’s raid.
An investigator with the ATF who worked on the case said the arson led directly to last year’s raid. The investigator said approximately 3 percent of arson cases result in an arrest and conviction, so the fact that Weatherly Police even charged the suspects is impressive.
Larrinaga-Sanchez is still at large. He is known to frequent the Freeland area and has ties to New Jersey and Florida. He is also wanted for an assault which occurred in Wilkes-Barre. Police have asked anyone with information about his whereabouts to contact Sgt. Bogart at 570-427-4241.