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Chemist: Gas found on Lawrence arson suspect's pants

A pair of fire pants that prosecutors say volunteer firefighter Caleb Lacey left on the street outside his neighbor's burning house had gasoline in them, a forensic chemist testified Friday at Lacey's trial on arson and murder charges.

Authorities have said gasoline was the accelerant used to set the Feb. 19 fire in Lawrence that killed Lacey's neighbor, Morena Vanegas, 46, her son Saul Preza, 19, and her daughters Andrea, 10, and Susanna, 9. Prosecutors have said Lacey got upset while he was helping to battle the blaze, stepped out of his pants and left them on the street at the scene.

Michelle Evans, who works for the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified in Nassau County Court that tests on the pants showed there was gasoline in the pants' lining.

A Nassau fire marshal investigator testified Thursday that a dog trained to sniff out accelerant identified the presence of gasoline on the front stairs of the two-story building at 232 Lawrence Ave.

Evans said almost no gasoline was found in debris that she tested from those stairs. Signs of gasoline were found in only one sample sent to her office, she said, and those were so minor that she recorded a "negative" finding in her report.

However, Evans said the fact that she didn't find an accelerant in the debris doesn't mean it never was there. In blazes that are particularly intense, she said, an accelerant can evaporate.

Christopher Cassar of Huntington, the lawyer for Lacey, 20, has said it is no surprise that gasoline was found in Lacey's fire pants - he had his own tree-trimming business and used gasoline all the time, he said.

Evans said she tested liquid found in a lawn mower, leaf blower and can in a shed behind Lacey's house, and found that it was gasoline.

Cassar said it is significant that the fire investigator found no gasoline on Lacey's gloves or in the car that prosecutors say he used in driving to set the fire.

"That is a major problem" for the prosecution's case, Cassar said.

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