Tenant charged with arson in house fire

CARL RUSSO/staff photo. Lawrence firefighters and mutual aid companies battled a two-alarm blaze that broke out in a Jackson Street rooming house late Monday morning. A tennant has been charged with arson.    

LAWRENCE — A man living in a rooming house on Jackson Street has been charged with setting a fire there Monday, authorities said. Thirteen people were displaced by the blaze. 

The fire occurred at 233 Jackson St., the same building where an 11-year-old girl was allegedly drugged, raped and later died in December 2018. 

Raymond Rivera, 30, of 233 Jackson St., was charged with a single count of arson after an investigation by local and state investigators.  

He was held without bail following his arraignment Tuesday in Lawrence District Court. He is now due back in court Dec. 4  for a hearing to determine if he is a danger to himself or others. 

A two-alarm fire broke out in the rooming house, which was built in 1910, just before noon Monday. 

Lawrence firefighters battled the blaze for about an hour before bringing it under control. 

The fire was believed to have started in a second-floor bedroom and then leapt into the attic. Flames were shooting out of a third-floor dormer when firefighters arrived. 

Other tenants of the boarding house heard Rivera making noise in his room and then leaving the building before the fire alarm sounded, according to a statement from State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey. 

"Investigators determined the fire started in Mr. Rivera's room and was intentionally set," Ostroskey said. 

Lawrence police and fire investigators, along with state troopers assigned to the fire marshal's office, investigated. 

Fire Chief Brian Moriarty said fortunately fire alarms in the rooming house "alerted other residents and they were able to escape more easily because it happened in the middle of the day." 

"This man put the other residents in harm's way by knowingly leaving a building that is on fire and not alerting anyone. Seconds count in a fire," Moriarty said. 

Police said Raymond Rivera is not related to Miguel Rivera, 59, who was arrested and charged after a Dec. 15, 2018 incident at the rooming house. Miguel Rivera's great niece, Precious Wallace, 11, fell ill at his 233 Jackson St. apartment, slipped into a coma and later died at a Boston hospital. 

Rivera regularly babysat Precious and her young brother, according to authorities. 

The boy told an investigator that Rivera gave them red pills at bedtime and paid them to swallow the pills, according to court documents. 

In addition to finding sperm cells, autopsy testing of the girl's body also revealed the presence of fentanyl, a manmade opioid, and amitriptyline, a medication that causes sleepiness, according to court documents.

DNA extracted from sperm cells found in Precious' body matched Rivera, according to authorities.

Police say Miguel Rivera admitted to flushing prescription pills down the toilet as Precious was in medical distress early on the morning of Dec.15.

Detectives said some 13 minutes passed between Rivera disposing of the sleeping pills and when he dialed 911 at 3:26 a.m.

Miguel Rivera, 59, is held without bail on five charges: murder, rape of a child by force, aggravated rape of a child, indecent assault and battery on a child under age 14 and distribution of a class E substance to a minor.

He is expected to go on trial sometime in 2021. 

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill. 

 

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