BOUND BROOK, NJ - A 28-year-old borough resident has been charged with setting the fire that destroyed two five-story apartment buildings under construction on East Main Street, along with several other nearby structures.
Somerset County Prosecutor Michael H. Robertson credits video footage from surveillance cameras and Ixphone videos with helping to identify the suspect, Juan Hector Padilla of East Second Street.
Padilla who at one time lived in Elizabeth was arrested less than 24 hours after the devastating seven-alarm fire that began at the Meridia II building on East Main Street, according to Bound Brook Chief of Police Vito Bet. The suspect has been charged with second degree aggravated arson and third degree hindering Investigation apprehension/false information, and is lodged at the Somerset County Jail pending a detention hearing.
Videos showed Padilla walking in the area of the Meridia II building several times leading up to the fire, according to Robertson, who said it is likely more charges will be filed as the multi-level investigation continues.
Robertson provided the following details of the fire and subsequent investigation at a press conference held with local and country officials Tuesday afternoon at the Bound Brook municipal building:
Bound Brook Police received a 911 call at 7:53 p.m. Sunday reporting the fire. The Bound Brook Fire Department, along with 36 fire companies from Somerset, Middlesex, Union, Hunterdon and Mercer counties, as well as the New Jersey State Forestry Service, responded in waves as the fire continued to intensify and spread to other buildings across the street. High winds and radiant heat were a contributing factor.
Detectives from Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, the Bound Brook Police Department, the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office Fire Investigation Unit, fire officials from Somerset County and state and federal investigators responded to collaborate on the investigation. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms and the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office also assisted.
Robertson said the suspect had no known association with the owners of either apartment building and that investigators have yet to determine a motive.
Robertson asks that anyone with information to contact the Somerset County Prosecutors Office Major Crimes Unit at (908) 231-7100 or the Bound Brook Police Department at (732) 356-0800 or make a report via the STOPit app. The STOPit app allows citizens to provide anonymous reports including videos and photos. STOPit can be downloaded to your smart phone for free at the Google Play Store or Apple App Store, access code: SOMERSETNJ.
Information can also be provided through the Somerset County Crime Stoppers’ Tip Line at 1-888-577-TIPS (8477). All anonymous STOPit reports and Crime Stopper tips will be kept confidential.
Bound Brook Mayor Bob Fazen said during the press conference that the borough has been fielding calls from those who want to donate items to those who were displaced in the fire. He said they are setting up a place for those who were displaced to pick up necessary items.
"Our history is filled with floods and fires," he said. "Fire will always be a threat."
"Thanks to the police and fire who did an outstanding job," he added.
Fazen said the developers will be demolishing what is left of the buildings, and will rebuild from the beginning. He said they are closing in on about 100 residents displaced.
"(Many) residents are permanently displaced because those buildings will be destroyed," he said.
"But Bound Brook will rebound, and we will rebuild," he said.