Case closed UC arrests two more in arson investigation, say motive was drug-related
by Christine Nardone Reporter staff writer
Jun 27, 2002 | 1381 views | 1 1 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After a six-month investigation, the more than 40 families displaced in the string of arson fires set in Union City on Dec. 2, 2001 will finally see some closure.

Two additional people were arrested in relation to these fires last week.

Detectives arrested Union City residents Raymond Hayde, 39, of the 1300 Block of Bergenline Avenue and Raphael Vasquez, 20, of the 1800 Block of Bergenline Avenue, on June 26.

Hayde, who was arrested at his place of employment in Lyndhurst at about 7:30 a.m. on June 26, is being charged with seven counts of aggravated arson for fires set at 1010, 1012, 1016 and 1018 Summit Ave., 418 and 420 13th St. and 606 10th St.; and 13 counts of attempted murder for the 13 people living in the building at 1016 Summit Ave.

Vasquez, who was arrested at the Union City Detective Bureau at 11 a.m. on the same day, was charged with five counts of aggravated arson for all of the fires except those on 13th Street, and the same 13 counts of attempted murder.

Molinari said that police had already visited residences where they believed Vasquez or his family members lived, inquiring after him. Vasquez was arrested when he came to the police station asking why the police were looking for him.

Captain Brian Barrett, the daytime detective bureau commander, said that the individuals were charged with attempted murder for the Summit Avenue fires and not the other two fires because this fire was started inside the building on the staircase, which was the only means of egress for the residents.

The other fires were started outside the building.

Eyismery Areana Ocanto, 21, of North Bergen was arrested earlier this year on one count of aggravated arson regarding the fire at 604 10th St., a three-family house that left 18 people homeless.

Since her original arrest, Lt. Richard Molinari, who heads the city's arson investigation unit, said that Ocanto was charged with one additional count of conspiracy for arson at 1016 Summit Ave.

These arrests were the results of exhaustive investigation, which included the entire police department and hundreds of interviews, said Molinari.

"We had information from the beginning," said Molinari. "But because of the magnitude of the fires and the amount of damage that was done to the buildings, everybody was hesitant. It took a long time for people to come forward."

Union City Mayor Brian Stack said that many of the more than 100 people displaced in these fires still ask him about the investigation into the destruction of their homes. Stack added that some of the families are still placed in temporary housing awaiting permanent apartments to live.

"No case is ever really closed," said Stack. "But the police department is satisfied with the arrests made."

Both are being held without bail and were to be arraigned at Central Judicial Processing court on June 27.

All connected

The 10th Street fire was one of a string of four-alarm fires that broke out before four a.m. on Dec. 2 in Union City.

The fires started at 1016 Summit Ave. and spread to four two-story apartment buildings and first level businesses, 604 10th St. and 420 13th St., both residential properties.

Union City Police were led to Ocanto, who was arrested and charged in Union City on Feb. 28, through a tip from the Weehawken Police Department. Soon after the Dec. 2 fires, Ocanto was arrested in relation to a car fire set in Weehawken.

Weehawken Police arrested Ocanto with two accomplices on the car fire, Hayde, also allegedly involved in the Union City fires, and his brother Damien Smarsch, 23, of Union City, who has not been connected to the Union City fires at all.

According to Richard Molinari, who heads the city's arson investigation unit, police believe that all three individuals were allegedly involved in the activity on Summit Avenue and 10th Street.

However, Molinari said that police believe that Hayde allegedly acted alone the fires started on 13th Street.


Two of the three fires set on Dec. 2 were started for drug related reasons, police charged.

Barrett said that the fire that started at 1016 Summit Ave. was set because the individuals involved believed that all "rival drug dealer" lived in the building. However, according to Barrett, the person targeted in that fire did not live in the building; he was just seen entering the building to visit a friend.

The 13th Street fire, which was allegedly set by Hayde, was started two houses away from the residence of what Barrett said was a drug dealer. Barrett charged that Hayde expected that the fire would spread to the drug dealer's residence.

Barrett said that the fire was started at 606 10th Street because a woman, believed to be involved with Ocanto's boyfriend, lived at that address.
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June 26, 2016