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Officials: Bagel store owner tried to burn own place

Firefighters apprehended a bagel store owner shortly after he tried to set fire to his own store in a Commack strip mall, officials said Friday.

Salvatore D. Dirato, 49, the owner of the Bagel Cafe, was still in the darkened store on Jericho Turnpike on Thursday evening when Commack firefighters arrived in response to a 911 call from the adjoining pizza restaurant, fire officials said.

"The workers from the pizza place called it in because they were getting some smoke and were worried about the whole strip going up," said Commack Fire Chief Steve Fontana. "I was the first on the scene. . . . When I approached, I happened to see somebody in there, and he went through the back door."

Assistant Chief Andy Babajko then grabbed Dirato and held him for police, Fontana said.

About 15 Commack firefighters responded to the alarm, Fontana said. The blaze did not spread to the adjacent businesses and for the most part extinguished itself, Fontana said. It was declared under control within 15 minutes of his arrival, he said.

Dirato was charged with second-degree attempted arson and criminal mischief. A spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said the fire was started at the store's oven and charred one of its walls.

The spokesman, Bob Clifford, said Dirato also used a crowbar on a nearby automated teller machine that evening, destroying the mechanism and causing $2,000 damage.

Dirato pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Friday in First District Court in Central Islip, said Patrick Lanigan of Coram, Dirato's attorney. Lanigan declined further comment.

Dirato was ordered held on $25,000 cash bail or $100,000 bond.

The Dirato home on Sequoia Drive in Coram has been mentioned several times in Newsday articles for its Christmas light displays.

The family was noted for its charitable work, using the holiday occasion gatherings as an opportunity to collect donations for the American Cancer Society.

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