Five Former Volunteer Firefighters Indicted by Prince George’s County Grand Jury in Multiple Arsons of Vacant Structures
On Tuesday, April 27, 2021, five former volunteer firefighters of the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department were indicted by a grand jury on various arson, conspiracy, and/or misconduct in office charges for allegedly participating with four intentionally-set fires of vacant structures in Prince George’s County in late 2019 and early 2020. The indictments are the result of an in-depth investigation by the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Fire Investigations Division and the Prince George’s County Arson Task Force. The Arson Task Force is comprised of Detectives from the Prince George’s County Police Department and Fire Investigators from the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department.
Prince George’s County Fire Chief Tiffany Green said, “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. 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.”
26-year-old Jeremy Hawkins of North Potomac, MD - Former member of West Lanham Hills VFD. Indicted on 14 counts including 1st Degree Arson and multiple Conspiracy to Commit 1st 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, MD - Former member of West Lanham Hills VFD. Indicted on 10 counts including Conspiracy to Commit 1st Degree Arson and multiple Misconduct in Office charges.
24-year-old George Smith of Purceville, VA - Former member of West Lanham Hills VFD. Indicted on 15 counts including 2nd Degree Arson, and multiple Conspiracy to Commit Arson and Misconduct in Office charges.
24-year-old Jay St. John of Centreville, VA - Former member of West Lanham Hills VFD. Indicted on 13 counts including multiple Conspiracy to Commit Arson and Misconduct in Office charges.
21-year-old Cole Vazquez of Bowie, MD - Former member of West Lanham Hills VFD. Indicted on 12 counts including 1st Degree Arson and multiple Conspiracy to Commit Arson and Misconduct in Office charges.
The initial appearances for Holzberger, Smith, St. John and Vazquez have been scheduled for May 14, 2021, in Prince George’s County Circuit Court. Hawkins is currently being held at the Prince George’s County Department of Corrections in Upper Marlboro on a $50,000 bond.
The volunteer firefighters listed above were all removed by PGFD/EMS from emergency operations in early 2020 at the outset of the investigation. The investigation began in January 2020 after Fire Investigators responded to multiple fires of vacant structures in the central portion of the County including a fire in the 9500 block of Wellington Street in Lanham. Investigators determined the cause of that fire was arson. Over the course of the following few days, Investigators arrested two civilians, Giancarlo Reyes of New Carrollton, who was then 22-years old, and Francis Ortiz-Oro Washington DC, then 20-years old and charged both men with 1st and 2nd degree arson and other charges. Through the course of the investigation, Investigators learned that Reyes and Ortiz-Oro were friends. It was also discovered that Reyes had applied to become a Volunteer Firefighter at PGFD Station 828, West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department in 2019, but was denied by the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department after a background check was conducted. However, it was learned through the investigation, that Reyes had been permitted by station supervisors to continue to hang out at the station despite the revocation of his membership application by PGFD/EMS in January, 2019. Meanwhile, Ortiz-Oro has no official links to the West Lanham Hills VFD or PGFD/EMS. However, it was discovered that Ortiz-Oro started membership applications in 2018 and, again, in 2019, at other Prince George’s County Volunteer Fire Departments but never finished either process, so, ultimately, he was never approved or denied.
(Press release on Reyes and Ortiz-Oro issued on February 1, 2020) http://pgfdpio.blogspot.com/2020/02/two-men-arrested-for-arson-one-was.html
The investigation led Detectives and Investigators to conduct more than sixty court-ordered search warrants which included but was not limited to video surveillance devices at the West Lanham Hills VFD station and electronic items belonging to members of the West Lanham Hills Volunteer Fire Department. Preliminarily, those searches and the subsequent investigation revealed that the former firefighters who have been indicted had knowledge of and were involved in the planning of arsons for the purpose of responding to the incident scenes and extinguishing the fires. A total of four fires of unoccupied structures are at the center of the case. Preliminary evidence provides that the civilian suspects set all four fires with the exception of the first arson on Cipriano Road (below) during which the two civilian suspects were accompanied by former firefighter Smith. Detectives report that all of those indicted were aware of the fires occurring before, during and after the fires were set. It was invaluable assistance from the community after the fourth fire that led Investigators and Detectives initially to the civilians and the break in the case that revealed the criminal scheme involving the former firefighters. No civilians were injured in any of the fires.
ARSONS INVOLVED IN THE CASE:
December 31, 2019 at 12:16 AM 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 AM 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 indicted firefighters 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 AM 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 AM 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