Investigators are trying to determine if an overnight fire that destroyed a house under construction in Merrick is tied to fliers found near the scene alleging the incoming resident is a sex offender.
Those fliers, found attached to utility poles in the area, including ones directly in front of the home, claimed the incoming resident is a Level 2 sex offender whose victim was 13 years old, officials said. A Level 2 sex offender is considered a moderate risk to repeat the offense, according to the New York Department of Criminal Justice Services.
The man pictured on the fliers pleaded guilty to statutory rape in 2013 in Queens Criminal Court. Newsday is not identifying the man in the flyer because authorities could not confirm that he was the incoming resident.
Nassau County Fire Marshal’s Office Division Supervisor James Hickman said the sex offender fliers were being considered as a potential motive. He said the home did not have an active utility service, but declined to say if a preliminary investigation found evidence of any accelerants.
“Standing in front of the house,” Hickman said, “there wasn’t one place you could look where you couldn’t see one of the posters.”
Nassau County police confirmed they were aware of the fliers but did not immediately comment on the investigation by arson-bomb squad detectives.
Police said a Seventh Precinct officer, on routine patrol, spotted the blaze at the house on Yale Road, near Lindenmere Drive, and reported it at 3:33 a.m. Firefighters from Merrick, Bellmore, North Bellmore, North Merrick, Wantagh and Freeport responded to the scene to find it “fully engulfed in flames,” Merrick Fire Department spokesman Ron Luparello said.
He said that at least 60 firefighters battled the blaze for more than two hours before the scene was fully extinguished.
No one was injured.
Richard Watkins, 74, who has lived in neighborhood since 1952, said he had not seen the fliers. He said he understands why people would be upset about the possibility of a sex offender moving in but arson, if that was the case, was not justified.
“I think it is sad. It is tragic for a lot of reasons,” Watkins said. “It seems like any other solution would have been better.”