NORTH TONAWANDA – Matthew A. Jurado told North Tonawanda police Thursday that he poured a bottle of lighter fluid on the couch in the apartment of Kenneth D. Walker, the city’s only African-American firefighter, and lit it.
However, Jurado said he did it because he was angry about being suspended from the Fire Department - not because of Walker’s race.
Jurado was ousted from Live Hose Company in July for failure to complete training, according to a statement to police by firefighter Kenneth J. Kozlowski, president of the city Firefighters Association. Walker, who lives across Oliver Street from Jurado, is a member of Gratwick Hose Company.
“OK, I’ll tell you the truth. It wasn’t racial, nothing like that,” Jurado is quoted as saying in a court document filed with the arson complaint against him.
“I was pissed about the Fire Department. They kicked me out and Ken said I couldn’t get into his because all the departments were connected. I went in the back door, it wasn’t locked. I put a little plastic bottle full of liquid on the couch and lit it. It was filled with Zippo lighter fluid and I lit it with a regular lighter. I left and walked back across the street. My girlfriend said there was smoke coming from Ken’s and I told her I didn’t see any. She said again that smoke was coming from Ken’s. I tried to tell her it must be from a barbecue, but she told me to look and started walking over. After she saw that it was coming from Ken’s, I told her to call 911.”
The arson at Walker’s house captured national attention because the volunteer firefighter had received an anonymous threatening letter two days before the fire, telling him that blacks aren’t wanted in the North Tonawanda fire service and demanding he resign. In six days, more than $149,000 has been donated to Walker’s family through a gofundme page created by another firefighter from North Tonawanda.
Jurado told police he didn’t write the threatening letter with racial slurs, according to police.
In a statement to police filed with North Tonawanda City Court, Jurado’s girlfriend, Dorothy Adamo, said Jurado once sent a Facebook message to her daughter’s African-American boyfriend, citing the KKK, in an effort to frighten him.
Walker’s statement to police cited a July 13 exchange of text messages in which Walker agreed to try to obtain a Gratwick Hose application for Jurado. However, Walker said he texted Jurado on July 22, “I can’t get you an app. Our president met with (Assistant Fire) Chief (Douglas D.) Orlowski about you and they won’t let you join after what happened. You can’t even join as a social member.”
Kozlowski told detectives that about a week before the fire, Jurado came to his house complaining about his treatment. “He told me that he was kicked out of the Fire Department and the (expletives) at Gratwick Hose would not even give him an application. He also told me that Live Hose would not give him a letter of recommendation.”
Kozlowski said he told Jurado he couldn’t do anything to help him.
Walker said Jurado sent him several texts after July 22, but he didn’t return any of them. He said he never told Jurado about the threatening note he found in his mailbox Aug. 1, saying that their relationship was reduced to saying “Hi” when they saw each other.
However, Walker said he did phone Jurado at 12:29 p.m. Aug. 3 and asked him “to check the back door of my apartment because during a conversation I had with my wife that morning, she had mentioned that she might have forgotten to lock the door when she left for work.” Walker said Jurado agreed to check the apartment.
In Jurado’s first statement to police, taken less than two hours after the fire was reported at 12:36 p.m., he claimed that he saw smoke coming from Walker’s residence as he was on his way over to check whether the door was locked. Jurado speculated that it might have started “through an AC unit or electrical. I heard the smoke detectors too, so I knew.”
Asked by Detective Timothy P. Bakula whether he had any hard feelings about being suspended from the Fire Department after 3 1/2 years of service, Jurado replied, “No, I don’t.”
A statement to police from Adamo, Jurado’s live-in girlfriend, confirmed that Walker had asked Jurado to check his apartment.
“He was not there that long. Maybe like two minutes,” Adamo said.
In a second police interview, Adamo was asked if Jurado ever made any racial comments. She replied, “The only thing I know is that he sent the one thing on Facebook. The KKK that was to scare my daughter’s boyfriend away. But I told him it was not right and I don’t appreciate that because the KKK is not only against blacks.” Adamo said the boyfriend was African-American.
Asked if Jurado was upset with Walker because of the latter’s inability to help him get into Gratwick Hose, Adamo said, “Not that he showed me.”
Adamo confirmed that she saw Jurado had a Bic lighter with him the morning of the fire. “He has it on him all the time because he smokes,” she explained.
Jurado, who is free on a $50,000 bail bond, is due to appear in City Court with a defense attorney at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. A court official said Tuesday that no attorney has called the court so far to report taking the case.
Jurado is charged with second-degree arson, a Class B felony. If convicted of that charge, he faces a mandatory minimum of five years in state prison with a 25-year maximum.