Former community center worker charged with arson over bathroom fire

NEWTOWN – A former employee of the Newtown community center is facing felony charges after police say he set fire to an outdoor bathroom at the center earlier this year.

George DeWitt Wight Ferris, 26, was arrested and charged with first-degree arson and first-degree criminal mischief on Wednesday, following a three-month investigation into a February fire at the street property Simpson from the community center.

Firefighters and police responded to the center after staff reported a burning smell in the building around 6.20pm on February 27.

A structure fire was confirmed minutes later after an employee observed flames and smoke coming from an outdoor men’s bathroom on the property. The community center was evacuated and the fire extinguished with no injuries reported.

Police said there was “significant damage” to the lavatory, and the fire marshal estimated the cost of the repair at around $12,000 to $15,000.

Investigators determined the fire started in a wall mounted trash can – the contents of which ignited and “continued to burn and ignite the paper towel dispenser above the burning trash can”, according to the arrest warrant for Ferris.

After reviewing building security camera footage showing a person entering the bathroom prior to the fire, police said they believe – based on the suspect’s actions and where the fire had started – that the fire had been started intentionally.

Footage showed the suspect getting out of a black Toyota Prius and rushing to the bathroom at around 5:58 p.m., police said.

When the suspect exited the toilet a minute later, police said “a reflection of the orange glow from the flames” could be seen inside the door as it closed.

Police said the suspect then returned to the car, left the property and parked on Simpson Street with the vehicle facing the community center and its headlights off, “as if to monitor the situation and/or the response to the fire at the building.”

After about 15 minutes, police said the vehicle backed up and drove off.

The next day, authorities learned that Ferris – a former employee of the Newtown Community Center – matched the suspect’s description and was driving a black Toyota Prius.

The manager of the community center told police that Ferris’ last day of employment was December 31 and that he “never had any behavioral issues at work, was an exceptional employee and left on his own. conditions,” according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

After speaking to the manager of the community center, Detective Richard Monckton was alerted to a black Toyota Prius parked along Simpson Street in the same location the arson suspect had parked the night before.

The driver not only matched the suspect’s description, but was wearing a black puffy winter coat like the one the suspect was wearing in security camera footage, according to Monckton, who said he was “not unusual that arsonists remain somewhere on the scene or return later. at the scene to observe the fire and/or its consequences.

When the driver returned to the car and pulled over, Monckton said he followed the vehicle to a residence in town, where he later learned Ferris was living, according to the warrant. The vehicle was also registered to Ferris, according to police.

The next day, police executed search warrants for Ferris’ home, person and vehicle and seized the puffy black winter jacket, along with other clothing and a box of unopened storm matches. .

Monckton said Ferris ‘did not appear surprised by the accusation or denied any involvement’ when told he was a suspect in the Feb. 27 arson investigation and declined to comment. tell the police.

Ferris was arrested on a warrant on Wednesday and arraigned in state Superior Court in Danbury the same day.

He pleaded not guilty to both counts and remains being held on $300,000 bond, according to court records. His next court appearance is scheduled for June 1.

Jill E. Washington