UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (WJZ) -- Five former volunteer firefighters were indicted on charges of arson in Prince George's County earlier this week.
The group, who worked for West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department, were indicted by a grand jury on various arson, conspiracy or misconduct in office charges for allegedly starting four fires of vacant structures in Prince George's County in late 2019 and early 2020.
The indictments are a result of an investigation by the Prince George's County Fire/EMS Fire Investigations Division and the Prince George's County Arson Task Force.
"The indictments mark the end of an investigation our Department launched early last year. I commend our Investigators and the Arson Task Force for their tenacity and commitment to closing this case," Prince George's County Fire Chief Tiffany Green said. "It is beyond disheartening to learn that the accused were willing to cause harm simply so they could serve themselves. I want to make clear that their alleged actions in no way reflect upon the hundreds of dedicated Volunteer Firefighters who serve our community each and every day. Our Volunteers give of themselves and of their time to fulfill our mission to serve our residents. The alleged actions of a few should not disparage the work and sacrifices of our men and women."
The following people were indicted with these charges.
- 26-year-old Jeremy Hawkins of North Potomac was indicted on 14 counts including first-degree arson and multiple conspiracy to commit first-degree arson and misconduct in office charges. Arrest warrant was issued. Hawkins was taken into custody on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
- 19-year-old Nicholas Holzberger of Riverdale was indicted on 10 counts including conspiracy to commit first-degree arson and multiple misconduct in office charges.
- 24-year-old George Smith of Purceville, Va was indicted on 15 counts including second-degree arson and multiple conspiracy to commit arson and misconduct in office charges.
- 24-year-old Jay St. John of Centreville, VA was indicted on 13 counts including multiple conspiracy to commit arson and misconduct in office charges.
- 21-year-old Cole Vazquez of Bowie was indicted on 12 counts including first-degree arson and multiple conspiracy to commit arson and misconduct in office charges.
Hawkins is currently being held at the Prince George's County Department of Corrections in Upper Marlboro on a $50,000 bond. The initial appearances for Holzberger, Smith, St. John and Vazquez have been scheduled for May 14, 2021, in Prince George's County Circuit Court.
All of the former firefighters were removed from their roles in early 2020 when the investigation began.
In January 200, fire investigators responded to multiple fires set in vacant structures in the central portion of the county, including one in the 9500 block of Wellington Street in Lanham.
During the investigation, two civilians were arrested, 22-year-old Giancarlo Reyes of New Carrollton and 20-year-old Francis Ortiz-Oro Washington DC, and charged with first and second-degree arson and other charges.
Authorities learned that Reyes and Ortiz-Oro were friends and Reyes had applied to become a volunteer firefighter with West Lanham Hills VFD and Ortiz-Oro started applications with various Prince George's County Volunteer Fire Departments but never finished the process.
Detectives conducted more than sixty court-ordered search warrants, which included video surveillance. The civilian suspects allegedly set all four fires of the unoccupied structures with exception of a fire on Cipriano Road with was also allegedly set by Smith. It was all a criminal scheme involving the former firefighters, prosecutors said, and the former firefighters were aware of the fires before they occurred.
The following fires are tied to these indictments:
- December 31, 2019 at 12:16 a.m. in the 6700 block of Cipriano Road in Lanham. A fire was intentionally set in a shed on the property of a vacant house. Property damage was estimated at $5,000.
- January 16, 2020 at 2:03 a.m. in the 6300 block of Sheridan Street in Riverdale. A fire was intentionally set in the kitchen of a vacant house. Property damage was estimated at $150,000. One of the arrested, former firefighter Hawkins, did receive minor burns while extinguishing the fire but did not report his injury at the time to incident command.
- January 18, 2020 at 2:04 a.m. in the 4700 block of 68th Avenue in Landover Hills. A fire was intentionally set inside the kitchen of an unoccupied house for sale. Property damage was estimated at $75,000. A third civilian, 20-year-old Christopher Morales of Hyattsville, MD, was arrested and charged on February 17, 2021, with 1st Degree Arson, 2nd Degree Arson, and Malicious Destruction charges for his alleged involvement in this fire.
- January 20, 2020 at 1:50 a.m. in the 9500 block of Wellington Street in Lanham. A fire was intentionally set in the kitchen of an unoccupied house for sale. Property damage was estimated at $30,000.
Anyone with information about this case is asked to the call the Office of the Fire Marshal at (301)-77-ARSON (27766) or email 77ARSON@CO.PG.MD.US
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