Less than two months after nearly 90 people lost their homes and belongings in a fire that gutted the Lafayette Barton Apartments on March 11, the man who started the blaze has pleaded guilty in Erie County Court.
A contrite Jonathan Jimenez, appearing before Judge Michael Pietruszka Friday afternoon, pleaded guilty to attempted arson in the second degree, a class C violent felony. Asked, through an interpreter, if he intentionally damaged the building at 115 Lafayette Ave. by starting a fire there when he knew others were present in the building, Jimenez responded, “I am guilty.”
Assistant District Attorney Paul J. Glascott reminded the court that the fire impacted dozens of people and caused a significant amount of damage, estimated at $2 million to the structure and $500,000 to contents. He said that the building’s owner may be seeking restitution for the deductible amount on his insurance policy, but does not have an exact figure yet. The blaze gutted the 100-year-old, three-story brick structure.
Defense attorney Daniel Grasso previously told the court that Jimenez has significant mental health issues. When questioned by the judge Friday, Jimenez said he was on medication in the Holding Center “for the problems I have had since I was a child.” He said he has been diagnosed bipolar and schizophrenic, and was sexually abused as a child.
Jimenez, 29, was seen on surveillance video at the building, leaving shortly before the fire was reported, said police, who added that he started two fires in the vacant apartment of a former girlfriend who had moved out days earlier.
Firefighters responding to the 1 a.m. call were able to get all the residents safely out of the building. Community fundraisers helped provide them with basic necessities and city leaders were working to rehouse everyone who was displaced.
Jimenez originally was charged with arson in the second degree, burglary, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and criminal contempt for violating the order of protection. He now faces a sentence of between 3 1/2 and 15 years when he returns to court on May 30.
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