Fire in Manhattan Spa Set on Purpose, NY Prosecutors Say – NBC New York

A 46-year-old Guatemalan man has been indicted for allegedly setting fire to a spa in Chinatown, dousing the lobby with a flammable liquid and lighting it ablaze when an unidentified employee went to a back room and trapping that person inside, federal prosecutors announced Friday.

Mario Lucas is charged with arson resulting in injury to another person, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of seven years in prison and a maximum sentence of 40 years, in the June 19 late-afternoon fire at the spa.

According to the indictment, Lucas walked into the spa, the location of which wasn’t clear from the indictment, around 4:45 pm that day and engaged the victim in conversation. About 10 minutes later, the victim left the lobby and went into a back room, while Lucas stayed out front. Prosecutors allege he opened his backpack and pulled out a white plastic bag that appeared to contain a liquid-filled plastic container — and he poured the liquid all over the lobby of the spa.

Then Lucas allegedly took a lighter from his pocket and lit the liquid on fire. The room went up in flames.

According to court documents, Lucas tried to open the front door at that point, presumably to get out himself, but it wouldn’t open. The victim apparently was still in the back room at the time.

Video from outside the spa shows smoke and fire within it as a crowd gathered on the street. A bystander used a bar stool to force the door open and Lucas ran out, running down Eldridge Street. The victim escaped a minute later.

It all happened within 15 minutes of him entering the building, prosecutors said.

Law enforcement officers traced Lucas’ movements through security camera footage from various locations in and around the scene. Prosecutors say it showed him pull off a hooded sweatshirt and the shirt he was wearing underneath and dump them in the street. He also dropped his backpack. Lucas appeared to be suffering from severe burns, they said, and appeared to be trying to pull off his own clothes as a result.

NYPD officers intercepted him about two blocks away and put him in an ambulance, which is when he presented them with a Guatemalan identification card bearing the name “Mario Lucas,” according to the indictment.

It wasn’t clear what motivated the attack.

“Intentionally setting a fire is a heinous crime, and doing so while knowing there is a person trapped inside is reprehensible,” Acting FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanaugh said in a statement. “We are grateful to our Fire Marshals and all law enforcement for quickly apprehending this man and keeping him off our city’s streets.”

NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell also condemned the alleged act, calling it a “violent assault that endangered an entire community and all the first responders who rushed in to help.

“As alleged, Mario Lucas committed a horrific arson of a Manhattan business with a victim trapped inside,” added Damian Williams, US attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Luckily, the victim survived. As reflected by the charge today, this Office is committed to holding individuals who would commit violence in this city accountable for their crimes.”

Information on legal representation for Lucas wasn’t immediately available.

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