LOCKPORT - Lockport police arrested a man on an arson charge today in connection with a fire Tuesday night at the home where his mother was found dead after an Oct. 20 fire.
Caleb Bell Jr., 34, the son of Holly A. Seiler, was charged with third-degree arson in connection with the blaze shortly before 6 p.m. Tuesday at 605 E. High St., Police Chief Michael F. Niethe announced. In a City Court arraignment, Judge William J. Watson ordered Bell held without bail to await the assignment of a defense attorney.
In the previous fire, the homeowner, Seiler, 54, was found dead following a 3:30 a.m. fire in her second-floor bedroom. Police have not publicly revealed the cause of Seiler's death, but no charges have been filed.
Tuesday's fire was reported at 5:53 p.m. and it may have started on the first floor or in the basement, almost directly beneath the bedroom where Seiler died. In the Oct. 20 fire, damage was confined largely to the bedroom.
The Tuesday night fire was at first reported as a natural gas leak, Fire Chief Patrick K. Brady said in a news release. While a fire truck was on the way to the scene, dispatchers amended the call to one of a working house fire.
However, it turns out that the gas in question was not natural gas but gasoline, according to authorities. Statements to police by Bell's sister and a man she had dinner with said they returned to the house about 5:20 p.m. and smelled gasoline even before they exited their car.
Crystal Bell, 24, told police that she saw "the cellar door was open and it was reeking of gasoline smell. I unlocked my door to my house and as soon as I opened the door to my house I could smell it even more coming from inside."
Crystal Bell told police she had noticed Caleb Bell Jr.'s bedroom window was open and there was a fan in the window. She stepped back outside and looked into the bedroom window and saw him sitting on the bed "staring into space." Crystal complained about the gasoline smell and she said her brother replied, "Oh, I don't know. I moved the gas cans."
A few minutes later, Crystal Bell said her brother left the house with his dog and placed it into his truck, then went back into the cellar. Seconds after that, she told police she heard Caleb Bell Jr. say "A fire!" and she saw "huge flames" coming from the living room.
The man Crystal Bell was with, Bashawn A. Wright, 23, told police he saw Caleb Bell Jr. go into the basement twice, staying for two or three minutes each time. He said Caleb Bell Jr. went back into the basement after saying there was a fire, but he and Crystal Bell drove away for fear there would be an explosion.
It's not known where Caleb Bell Jr. was when fire crews and police arrived.
Fire crews were able to quickly bring the fire under control and extinguish it. Police and fire investigators then spend several hours combing through the wreckage in a search for evidence on how the fire started.
Bell, who also lived at 605 E. High St., was arrested at 2 a.m. today, police said.