UPDATE (9 a.m., Aug. 23): Orangetown police say they have arrested a 16-year-old from Nyack, Jonathan Barillas, in connection with the arson car fires in Nyack. More information about the investigation is expected to be released shortly. Click here for more on the arrest.
Going door-to-door on Summit Street in Nyack on Monday, you could hear the same question repeated over and over.
Why would someone - or some group of people - go through this quiet residential neighborhood and as residents slept?
and Nyack village officials are seeking answers to that question and hope to uncover clues that could lead to arrests. As of Monday night, no one had been charged in connection with the arson fires that damaged or destroyed four cars at homes on Summit Street and off Washington Street.
Residents of the home at 35 Summit St. were hit the hardest in the incidents, with their home damaged by the fire that was started in their car parked in the driveway just a few feet from the home.
Orangetown Det. Sgt. George Garrecht said investigators believe the fires early Monday morning are linked to a rash of thefts from cars in the neighborhood. At least 10 cars were entered in the same neighborhood overnight, with South Nyack-Grand View Police saying at least four other cars in South Nyack were also entered.
Garrecht and South Nyack-Grand View Police Chief Robert Vancura urged residents to take a key step toward preventing more thefts: Lock your car doors, even when you car is in your driveway.
Garrecht said the recent larcenies from cars all targeted cars that were left unlocked, with cash, personal electronics and any other valuables left inside the cars taken. What's unclear, Garrecht said, is how and why the car larecenies escalated Monday morning to arson.
Police are asking members of the community to alert police if they saw anything suspicious that could be related to the thefts and the fires, and Garrecht said police are hoping someone with a home video security system in the affected neighborhoods might have captured clues to the crimes on their systems. Do you have information that might help? Call Orangetown detectives at 845-358-2121.
Orangetown police and arson investigators from the Rockland County Sheriff's Department Bureau of Criminal Identification spent much of the day Monday looking for clues to the arson fires, which were discovered at about 2:30 a.m. At first, police and Nyack firefighters thought there were three cars affected by the arson spree. However, as dawn broke and residents started their day a resident of 47 Summit St. discovered that someone had set a fire insider her car as well.
Garrecht said the fire apparently died out on its own after the arsonist lit the fire and then closed the car door. Garrecht said it appears that the arsonist used whatever materials were at hand — such as an old playbill from a show - to start the fires. As of Monday, he said there was no sign that an excellerent, such as gasoline, had been used in the fires.
Nyack Mayor Jen White spent Monday afternoon on Summit Street talking with residents and victims of the arsons. She said the concern most raised among residents was the apparent senselessness of the arsons and that the arsons could easily have led to fatalities.
White and Summit Street residents said they could not comprehend why someone would set car fires right next to homes as the residents slept.
Residents of 35 Summit St. had to flee their home when they discovered a raging fire in their driveway, which then tore into the south side of their home. A block over, residents of 23 Summit St. — at the corner of Jackson Avenue — awoke to see their window red from the fire just behind the house. A 2012 Jeep, just recently purchased, was engulfed by flames and destroyed.
One of the residents used a garden hose to prevent the intense flames from the Jeep fire from destroying a shed in the backyard. In the daylight on Monday, the shed showed damage to its siding, which was partially melted by the heat from the fire.
Just across Jackson Avenue from the rear of the home at 23 Summit St., another car was torched in the driveway of 16 Washington St.
Members of the Nyack Fire Department thought they were responding to one fire when the emergency call came in for 35 Summit St. early Monday. However, as volunteer firefighters arrived they discovered multiple fires and called in for additional manpower from the Piermont Fire Department.
Nyack Fire Chief James Petriello called for arson investigators as he realized something more than just a routine fire had taken place.