By Jack Defren
A suspect in a recent series of arsons, targeting dining sheds and garbage areas in front of residential buildings on the Upper West Side, was arrested Sunday, August 14, according to an NYPD spokesperson.
On Friday, August 12, at 11:42 pm, police officers responded to a 911 call of a fire near the corner of West 80th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Upon arrival, officers observed the fire — apparently intentionally set — in an outdoor dining structure belonging to the restaurant Bluestone Lane.
The NYPD spokesperson added that the same suspect was believed to be responsible for an intentionally set fire at a nearby dumpster in front of 159 West 80th Street. Also apparently related was a rubbish fire, set minutes later, in front of 139 West 80th Street. FDNY responded and extinguished all three fires without further incident or injury.
On Sunday, August 14th at 11:45 pm, NYPD officers arrested an apparently homeless man, Alexis Parra, age 50, at 82nd Street and Broadway, allegedly in connection with these fires. Parra is charged with Arson, Reckless Endangerment, and Criminal Mischief.
An eyewitness, who wishes to remain anonymous, captured the arsonist setting fire to a cardboard box and the resulting blaze at 139 West 80th Street, via a front door security camera. The witness provided this footage to FDNY investigators and West Side Rag. This witness also heard a doorman, who is employed at 162 West 80th Street, tell NYPD officers on Friday night that he had observed the perp setting the Bluestone Lane shed fire, confronted the arsonist, and helped subdue that fire before it could cause more damage.
On Monday morning, Fire Marshals Peter Tighe and Michael A. O’Neill visited 80th Street with a photographer to document the damage caused by the three Friday night fires. O’Neill told WSR that the perp’s arrest also pertained to another arson fire set on West 84th Street on Sunday evening.
NYPD officers responding to the fires along West 80th Street, reviewed nearby building security video footage taken from multiple perspectives, and concluded it was the same man visible in the different videos. An NYPD arrest report described Parra as “an adult male, possibly Hispanic, 6’0″ tall, 220 lbs., wearing a black t-shirt, blue and white shorts, grey and black sneakers and a black hat.”
Also while investigating on West 80th Street, officers received a report after midnight on Saturday of a trash fire at 76th Street and Columbus Avenue. NYPD officers said that it sounded like the work of the same suspect, who had been filmed fleeing towards Columbus Avenue.
Fire Marshal O’Neill also said the suspect may be responsible for additional trash fires reported to 911 on the UWS in the past week and even last month. O’Neill said “this man likely has mental illness.” He added that Parra was not given a desk appearance ticket, due to the seriousness of the crime. Rather, he was remanded to custody. “Arson is a very serious crime,” O’Neill said. “Today it’s garbage [set on fire], tomorrow it’s your car, or it’s your wooden front door. The FDNY is continuing the investigation and is speaking to witnesses.”
When asked for any advice O’Neill might give to concerned Upper West Siders, he said, “Get cameras [in front of your buildings]. Cameras are essential. A good, inexpensive system will save you a lot of aggravation if something were to happen to your property…or, you could help out a neighbor.”