Students Face Possible Jail Time for Arson, False Alarms

by Judy Silberstein

(January 18, 2007) Two Mamaroneck High School students arrested in June 2006 for setting a smoky fire in the track locker room pled guilty to arson in October 2006 and will be sentenced on February 5, 2007 according to information from the Westchester District Attorney’s office. Eduardo L. Cornejo and Hector Barrios, 16-year-old Mamaroneck residents at the time of the arson, were charged as adults.

The two pled guilty to arson in the 4th degree, a class E felony, and could receive sentences ranging from a conditional discharge to 4 years in prison. A conditional discharge, at the discretion of the judge, could involve fines, community service with no further penalty if the defendant satisfies the conditions and does not commit any new offenses for a set period. The judge could also select a youthful offender adjudication, which allows for a sealing of the record and "erasure" of the criminal record. “It’s a second chance system,” explained Christina Frantom, district attorney spokesperson. “While paying for their crimes, the youthful offenders get a second chance.”

If the judge opts for a youthful offender adjudication, records will be sealed and the public will not learn the outcome of the sentencing hearing.

Two other MHS students were arrested at approximately the same time for setting smaller fires that were quickly discovered and extinguished. (See: Four MHS Students Arrested for Arson.) They were both charged with misdemeanors.

Meanwhile, this year, the high school is cracking down on students who inappropriately pull the fire alarms. Following two recent back-to-back incidents, Principal Mark Orfinger issued a strongly worded notice of the serious penalties that apply. In addition to suspension from school, “Students who set off false alarms are also subject to imprisonment of up to one year and substantial fines. Notations are put on their permanent high school record and may affect the college application process and future job applications,” Dr. Orfinger explained in an email sent to parents.

One student has already been suspended this year for setting a false alarm. In that case, other students helped the administration identify the perpetrator. The Village of Mamaroneck Police Department has an ongoing investigation in conjunction with its youth officer, Detective Joseph Combla, and school officials.

The district’s Safety and Security Committee is looking into additional measures for preventing false alarms and other violations, including the installation of television surveillance

“Fortunately, we’re doing a lot better than last year on false alarms and arson fires,” said Village of Mamaroneck’s Fire Chief Vincent Keck, who added he appreciated the cooperation he’s received from the Mamaroneck schools. “Our apparatus was involved in three traffic collisions while responding to false alarms at the high school.” He explained that the Mamaroneck Village Fire Department is staffed entirely by volunteers. “A false alarm unnecessarily pulls our volunteers away from their businesses,” said Chief Keck. It also distracts them from actual fires. “While we were at one false alarm at MHS, there was a house fire all the way at the other end of the community in Shore Acres,” he said.