Judge denies motion to dismiss counts against teen charged in Lockport tire plant fire

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — Niagara County Family Court Judge John Batt denied a motion to dismiss counts against a teen charged with starting a deadly fire in Lockport back in August.

The defendant, who was 13 when the fire was started, is facing ten charges including Criminally Negligent Homicide, Arson, Criminal Mischief, and Trespassing. The boy’s attorney, Angelo DiMillo, wanted to have all but Trespassing taken off the table.

DiMillo has said from the beginning his client never started the fire, but that the blaze was started by his friend, 14-year-old Joseph Phillips, whose remains were found in the rubble.

phillips

MORE | More on charges the teen faces, including criminally negligent homicide, here.

The massive fire at the High Tread International Recycling Plant caused more than $5 million in damage.

“He thought as a 13-year-old, that he was going to run back and put this fire out. That’s what he thought,” DiMillo told News 4.

He claims his client ran out of the building once he realized how out of control the fire was, he said it was to get help.

The boy received a voicemail from Phillips, who was stuck inside the building.

“This family did the right thing. They went to the police immediately when the mother heard the voicemail and cooperated fully for a hour and half and told them everything. They thought either Joe had ran from the building and was safe or he could still be in there. They were trying to help the police locate Joe to save him,” he said.

Assistant County Attorney John Sansone urged Judge Batt to maintain the ten charges against the boy, stating that because he and Phillips had gone to the tire plant at least five times in the past for the purpose of starting fires, they both knew the risks.

Sansone said the defendant was aware of the contents on the second floor of the plant, where the fire started, and that he knew the dangerous situation he and Phillips were getting into. His failure to speak up and spot the fire from being started makes his responsible for it as well, Sansone argued.

“If that’s not criminal negligence, I don’t know what is,” he said.

In court Thursday, counsel stated two fires occurred; the first one the boys were able to put out with Gatorade bottles they found nearby. It was the second fire that spread out of control.

The case returns to court Jan. 10. If attorneys can’t agree on a plea bargain by then, the case moves forward to a fact-finding hearing.

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