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DA charges five teens with starting fire at Sears mall

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Police and fire officials arrested five teens, including four juveniles, on charges of starting a fire at the Sears mall in Rego Park by pouring gasoline in an entranceway and lighting it with a match, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said last week.

Four of the teens, ranging in age from 13 to 15, were charged as juveniles and were not identified because they are minors.

The adult defendant, Mohammed Chaudhry, 17, of 84-70 129th St. in Kew Gardens, was charged with arson, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief, DA Brown said. He faces up to 25 years in prison, if convicted.

Chaudhry pleaded not guilty to the charges, said his attorney, Georgia Rattray-Gray, who would not elaborate on details of the case.

Another hearing for Chaudhry was set for Tuesday.

Two of the juveniles, who are 14 and 15, face up to 10 years in a secure facility if convicted, according to Brown, who would not release the charges against the young suspects. The other two, both 13, will be tried as juvenile delinquents in Family Court, Brown said.

The quick action of a passerby who summoned mall security averted what could have been a “major disaster,” Brown said.

“The defendants are charged with a mindless and dangerous criminal act of arson that could have resulted in death or serious injury to many people,” he said.

Shortly before 2 p.m. on Feb. 25 the teens, who attend JHS 217 and Hillcrest High School in Jamaica, used a Mobil Speedpass that Chaudhry had found on his way to school to buy a red plastic gas can and a gallon of gasoline at the Mobil service station, the district attorney said. The station at 63rd Drive and Queens Boulevard is across the street from the Sears Mall.

After one of the juvenile suspects poured gasoline on the floor near an escalator landing, Chaudhry lit two matches, the second of which ignited the fuel, according to a complaint filed in Queens Criminal Court.

Police and Fire Department units quickly responded to a 911 call from mall security guard Enrique Carmona. Fire marshals said property damage was limited to charring of the store entrance floor and wall and estimated the cost of repair to be around $250.

One teen was apprehended at the scene by fire marshals and detectives from the NYPD’s Arson and Explosion Squad and the others were taken into custody by those investigators shortly thereafter, the DA said.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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