NEW CARROLLTON, Md. – Five former Maryland volunteer firefighters accused of setting fire to vacant buildings have been indicted on arson and misconduct charges, authorities said.
Between December 2019 and January 2020, the firefighters are accused of conspiring with three civilians to set four fires during their shifts, State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said during a news conference on Friday.
“It appears to be for the sole purpose of just being called in to service to extinguish the fire,” Prince George’s Fire Department spokesperson Jennifer Donelan told WJLA.
The men worked for the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department in New Carrollton, WUSA reported. A grand jury indicted them on more than 60 counts, including arson, conspiracy and misconduct in office, according to a statement Friday from Prince George’s County Fire Chief Tiffany Green.
Charged were Nicholas Holzberger, 19, of Riverdale, Maryland; Cole Vazquez, 21, of Bowie, Maryland; George Smith, 24, of Purcellville, Virginia; Jay St. John, 24, of Centreville, Virginia; and Jeremy Hawkins, 26, of North Potomac, Maryland, WJLA reported.
Property damages from all four fires were estimated at $260,000, the television station reported. No one was hurt, WUSA reported.
“If you violate the public’s trust, if you devastate our community in an impactful way, we will hold you accountable,” Braveboy said.
Two of the civilians involved in the alleged arson were friends, officials said. One of the civilians applied to become a volunteer firefighter but was denied, WUSA reported. The other civilian also applied but did not complete the process, according to the television station.
Three weeks ago, the treasurer for the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department was indicted for allegedly embezzling more than $100,000 from the department, WJLA reported. In 2020, the department was investigated for failing to respond to a fatal fire, according to the television station.
Hawkins was being held at the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections in Upper Marlboro on a $50,000 bond, according to The Associated Press. The initial appearances for Holzberger, Smith, St. John and Vazquez were scheduled for mid-May, according to the statement from the State’s Attorney’s Office.
“It’s unacceptable and it’s disheartening and it makes us angry,” Braveboy said. “These are people that absolutely know the devastation that can be caused by fires.”
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