NEWBURYPORT — A Merrimac Street man already accused of setting several small fires around the city was arrested again Friday morning after police say he was caught trying to start another fire Thursday morning on Water Street.
The man, Brett R. Henderson, 40, began sobbing after Judge Peter Doyle ordered him held without bail following his arraignment Friday in Newburyport District Court. Doyle also ordered that a competency and criminal responsibility evaluation take place on a request by Henderson’s attorney.
While being arrested Friday morning at the Merrimac Street home he shares with his parents, Henderson was attempting to start a fire in a garbage can on his property, according to an Essex County prospector.
Henderson was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, disorderly conduct and attempting to set a fire. The assault and battery charge stems from an altercation with a friend who called Henderson crazy when Henderson tried to light a Water Street dumpster on fire, according to court records.
On the new charges, Doyle set bail at $1,000. Henderson is due back in court on Jan. 14, for a pretrial hearing.
“Same offenses with very similar facts,” Essex County prosecutor Paolo Cosmo said.
In mid-December, Henderson was arraigned in the same courthouse on charges of burning a building and disorderly conduct after police say he set fire to a utility shed at Pioneer Park. Although Henderson was released on personal recognizance, he was ordered to stay out of trouble with the law and not to possess any incendiary devices except for matches.
Because Henderson was arrested again, and allegedly caught with a lighter, Doyle revoked Henderson’s release.
Henderson is also believed to have set several other small fires in Dumpsters and trash cans around the city around the same timeframe. Police say he was spotted hanging around the scene of at least three of the fires, a common trait among arsonists.
Local police responded to the area of 108 Water St. around 11:30 a.m. Thursday where two men were fighting. Officers Charles Vorderis and Matthew Whitty broke up the fight and separated the two men. Henderson told Whitty that he was hit on the head with a rock and wanted to go to a hospital. He also told the officer he was previously charged with lighting a Dumpster on fire, according to Whitty’s report.
Voderis spoke to the other combatant who told the officer that he and Henderson were friends and were talking a walk together. During a previous walk Henderson told his friend he wanted to “burn the city, little by little,” Whitty wrote in his report.
During Thursday’s walk, Henderson asked to borrow his friend’s lighter to light his cigarette. After his friend handed him his lighter, Henderson walked over to a Dumpster and tried to set the contents on fire.
“(The friend) told Mr. Henderson he was crazy. Mr. Henderson became agitated and charged (him) into the street. (The friend) stated that he tried to defend himself but Mr. Henderson was much bigger than him. Mr. Henderson pushed (him) into the fence at 108 Water St. and cornered him,” Whitty wrote in his report, adding the victim admitted picking up a rock but not hitting Henderson with it.
Henderson was transported to Anna Jaques Hospital for treatment. He was arrested the next morning on the probation violation warrant.
Before his arraignment in mid-December, Newburyport Deputy Fire Chief Steve Bradbury gave police a list of six recent suspicious fires dating back to Nov. 25. The list included Dumpster fires on South Pond Street, Prince Place, and at the Sea Level restaurant, and trash barrel fires on Water Street and Inn Street.
The Inn Street fire took place around 8 a.m. on Dec. 12. Henderson was spotted on Inn Street around the same time and was questioned by Officer Michael Falite, according to Newburyport police Inspector Michael Sugrue’s report.
“Officer Falite told me that Henderson appeared to be suffering from a mental illness when he spoke with him,” Sugrue wrote in this report.