Homeless Man Charged In Fatal Fire

ELIZABETH – A 19-year-old homeless admitted setting a fire that lead to the death of a city firefighter earlier this month. Emilio Vasquez has been charged with arson and felony homicide, but a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf during a court appearance last week.

Vasquez told police that he set a fire in a vacant house on Jan. 2 to keep himself warm. The fire spread, and firefighter Gary Stephens was killed at the scene of the blaze when he was run over by a fire truck that was backing up.

Stephens was standing behind the rig, directing the driver back toward a hydrant to lay hose. He was distracted and hit by the truck, authorities said. No charges have been filed against the truck driver since the death was ruled an accident.

Authorities said that Vazquez had been living in the house illegally for about five days. He walked into Trinitas Regional Medical Center with burns on his hands and face after the fire. Police said that Vazquez initially told them that he had been kidnapped and tied up inside the house, but later admitted setting the fire.

He is being held at Union County Jail on $650,000 bail.

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