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Video: Lacey was first one ready to fight fire

Caleb Lacey, left, with fire chief Joseph Sperber,

Caleb Lacey, left, with fire chief Joseph Sperber, outside the home during the fire. Sperber testified on Feb. 2, 2010 that it was during this conversation that he told Lacey that four people had died. (Feb. 19, 2009) Credit: Handout

Jurors in Caleb Lacey's murder and arson trial Tuesday viewed a firehouse videotape that shows him in the moments before he rushed with other firefighters to battle the blaze he is accused of setting - actions that contradict what police say Lacey told them about what he was doing at that time.

On the cold morning of Feb. 19, the surveillance video taken at the Lawrence-Cedarhurst firehouse shows a car pulling into the back parking lot of the firehouse and Lacey, a probationary volunteer firefighter, stepping out and entering the building. That was at 5:44 a.m.

Two minutes later, at 5:46, the surveillance video, which was entered into evidence, shows the lights flashing on the firehouse floor and the garage doors opening automatically, indicating that a fire was ablaze in the neighborhood. The video shows Lacey dashing to suit up, the first one ready to fight the fire.

Prosecutors say that Lacey's arrival moments before the alarm sounded is evidence that he was the one who set the fire on Lawrence Avenue and then drove straight to the firehouse so that he could be the hero who helped put it out.

In his opening statement, prosecutor Michael Canty said that Lacey later told police that he was working out at the firehouse gym when the alarm rang. The video shows that he had no time to begin working out from the time he arrived at the firehouse to when the alarm rang.

The blaze, which consumed two apartments at 232 Lawrence Ave. in North Lawrence, could not be controlled, and four people perished: Morena Vanegas, 46, and three of her children, Saul Preza, 19, Andrea Vanegas, 10, and Susanna Vanegas, 9.

Lacey's lawyer has said his client is innocent and that there is no physical or scientific evidence tying him to the crime.

Lacey, who lived just yards from the Vanegas family, stands accused of setting the fire in the stairway that was the only exit from the building's second floor.

Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Commissioner Edward Koehler, who took the stand Tuesday morning, was the second witness to testify that seeing Lacey at an overnight fire was almost unheard-of.

Lt. Steven Magliaro, in afternoon testimony, recalled that Lacey had been teased after missing a middle-of-the-night fire about a month earlier.

"People break your chops if you miss a fire while you're in town," Magliaro said.

Canty said in his opening statement that Lacey likely set the fire in the hope that he could this time show up early and be part of the action.

Joseph Sperber, a chief with the department, testified that he was the one who told Lacey that four of his neighbors had died in the fire. Lacey got choked up, Sperber testified, handed him his fire pager, and said, "I need a time-out."

Canty said in his opening argument that it seems likely Lacey meant to save his neighbors, not kill them. Legally, Canty does not have to prove that Lacey intended to kill anyone to prove that he is guilty of murder.