Nicholas A. Harms stood shoeless in a driveway Tuesday morning about the same time a nearby house was reported on fire in the Village of Hamburg, according to documents filed Wednesday in Village Court.
Harms' shoes were found on the front lawn of the house that was on fire, Lt. Matthew H. Cullen stated in the criminal complaints charging Harms.
All this took place around 2:20 a.m. Tuesday, within minutes of Harms' arrest on burglary related charges for a break-in at 95 Rosedale Ave., according to the court papers.
Homeowner Jeffrey W. Neureuter has described the fire as "suspicious," but the Erie County Sheriff's Office and Hamburg Village Police on Thursday still have not determined the cause of the two-alarm blaze.
The charges lodged against Harms by Hamburg Village Police and the Sheriff's Office are not related to the start of the fire that heavily damaged the house, garage and two vehicles inside.
Robert Harms, the father of the burglary suspect, described his son as a "gentleman" who is self-employed and who often works 10-hour days.
"He could wire a panel box when he was 12," Robert Harms said. "He is not that guy. If there were a fire, Nick would be running in to help. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think there were other people involved."
Hamburg Village Police discovered Harms in the driveway of the home next door to the Neureuter residence. Cullen's criminal complaint alleges Harms was in the Neureuter kitchen and garage about 2:22 a.m., according to the six complaints.
Harms is accused of taking a set of car keys from a kitchen cupboard. The keys were for two vehicles owned by Jeffrey Neureuter, a 2010 Hyundai Sonata and a 2014 GMC Acadia. Both vehicles were parked in the garage, the criminal complaints charged. Harms is accused of entering the vehicles and taking several items from them.
The fire originated in the garage, where both vehicles caught fire, reported Hamburg Volunteer Fire Chief Jared Sterner in an interview with WIVB-TV at the time of the fire. The fire spread from the garage to the house, Sterner told WIVB.
"We were hearing explosions," Sterner said. "There were car tires blowing up. There was a propane tank that was set off. We had a lot of smoke and heat."
The stolen items — a debit card, Garmin GPS and computer cords — were located in the pockets of shorts Harms was wearing, stated Cullen.
Harms was charged with second-degree burglary, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, petit larceny, possession of stolen property and trespass, according to authorities.
Harms pleaded not guilty at his arraignment before Hamburg Village Justice Andrew P. Fleming, who set bail at $100,000. The judge set a felony hearing for Harms to be held at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
More than $12,000 was raised in 20 hours for the Neureuter family on a GoFundMe page. Along with the complete loss of their home and its contents, the Neureuters also lost their dog, Nellie.
"My heart goes out to the family who lost their home," Robert Harms said.
But he said he has received many calls and texts from people in support of his son.
"I got calls from customers out of state," said Robert Harms, who operates a building maintenance service company. "If Nick needed money, he would come to me. He doesn't need to steal anything. It is out of character."