Two people have now been charged with setting the July fire that destroyed the vacant former Luigi’s restaurant, authorities said Tuesday.
One of the two was arraigned Tuesday. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Arraigned Tuesday was 22-year-old Kevin Zimmer of Barrett Street. During his arraignment, Zimmer’s court-appointed attorney and the court took pains to explain the process to him to ensure that he understood the charges against him.
Family members, present at the court appearance, said afterward that Zimmer suffers from a mental disability. They also said Zimmer was inside the building with the teen charged and a third person, but Zimmer wasn’t involved in starting the fire.
Also charged with setting the fire is 16-year-old Joseph P. Colon of 626 Brandywine Ave. He was charged about a month after the July 5 fire. He was accused of using a lighter, paper and accelerant to set the fire inside 1127 Barrett St., the building that formerly housed the long-closed Luigi’s restaurant.
Papers filed in court estimated the loss from the fire at $50,000. The building has since been demolished.
Both Colon and Zimmer now face felony counts of arson, burglary and criminal mischief and could get up to five to 15 years in state prison, if convicted of the top arson count.
Firefighters were called to the Barrett Street building and an adjacent brick home around 4 a.m. July 5. They brought the fire under control in about two hours.
Luigi’s went out of business in 2007, a year after longtime owner Marlene Hill was killed by her mentally unstable grandson.
The restaurant was then seized by the state Department of Taxation and Finance and its contents sold at auction. The building remained empty and had been slated for demolition.
Both buildings ended up being owned by the Schenectady Urban Renewal Agency, which is headed by the mayor and City Council. Neither building had working electricity.
Colon was indicted earlier and had already pleaded not guilty, his attorney, Sven Paul, said Tuesday.
Zimmer was arrested last week on a sealed indictment and made his initial appearance in court.
County Court Judge Karen Drago put the case off until Tuesday so a defense attorney could be assigned.
During his appearance in court last week, an emotional Zimmer told the judge, “I just want to go home and see my kids.” Soon after, he also asked, “Can I just go home?”
Drago told him he had been charged with three felonies. “For what?” Zimmer responded.
Drago then outlined what was in the indictment and ordered that a copy of it be given to Zimmer’s brother, Peter Zimmer. Peter Zimmer, who was in the court gallery, told the judge that Zimmer was slow and wouldn’t understand what was happening.
On Tuesday, Kevin Zimmer was more calm, but he still appeared to have difficulty understanding what was happening. Drago and his appointed attorney, Steve Signore, took time to explain each step thoroughly.
Later, Signore said he intended to ask for an examination of Zimmer to determine if he is competent enough to assist in his own defense.
Family members also questioned why Zimmer was charged. Present Tuesday was Zimmer’s brother, father and fiancée.
They conceded that Zimmer was present when the fire started but said Zimmer’s account is that Colon started it and Zimmer had nothing to do with it.
They also said a third person was in the group, and they questioned why that person was not charged. They described Colon and the third person as fleeing after the blaze was started but said that Zimmer returned home and they called the fire department.
“He was there, but he did not set the fire,” Zimmer’s father, also named Peter Zimmer, said.
Zimmer’s fiancée, Leah Rock, added, “He even said he would have put it out, too, if it didn’t go up so quickly.”
Rock and Zimmer have two young children.
Zimmer remains in custody. Signore said he expects to file a bail application soon.
Prosecutor Deanndra Macomber, who handled the case before the grand jury, said that the investigation by police determined that Colon and Zimmer were responsible for the blaze. She did not give a motive.
She declined to comment on any potential witnesses.
Macomber also said she was not aware Tuesday of any mental health issues involving Zimmer.
Handling the case in court for the district attorney’s office was prosecutor Ed Moynihan.