Homeless Man Pleads Guilty In Firefighter’s Death

ELIZABETH – On Monday, a 20-year-old homeless man pleaded guilty to manslaughter for starting a fire that resulted in the death of an Elizabeth firefighter last January, according to Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow.

Emilio Vasquez, 20, of Guatemala, admitted that he started a fire inside an unoccupied house on Marshall Street in an attempt to keep warm on Jan. 2, according to Assistant Prosecutor Michael Henn who prosecuted the case.


When the fire got out of control the Elizabeth Fire Department responded. During the course of fighting the blaze, Firefighter Gary Stephens was killed by fire apparatus in the chaos of the scene.

On Monday, before Superior Court Judge James C. Hemilich, Vasquez said he was intoxicated when he started the fire and that his actions were reckless and resulted in the death of Stephens, according to Henn.

Vasquez took sole responsibility for the fire, saying a co-defendant, Jose Flores, had nothing to do with starting the fire.

Flores pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing, a disorderly persons offense, on Wednesday. He will likely be sentenced to time served and be deported, according to authorities.

Vasquez faces up to three years in prison when he is sentenced on Feb. 10, 2010. He will be deported upon his release from prison.

Updated December 18, 2009

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