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Elmhurst man held in trash fires

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But some residents of Middle Village, which has been plagued by trash can, dumpster and automobile fires in recent months, said they were unsure whether the man police charged with arson was responsible for all the neighborhood's fires.Kareen Jamal Walters, 26, who lives at a group home at 83-34 58th Ave. in Elmhurst near the border of Middle Village, was arrested Friday by marshals from the Fire Department's Bureau of Fire Investigations, DA Richard Brown said.Walters, an office supply salesman at College Point's Staples, was arraigned Saturday before Queens Criminal Court Judge Robert McGann and charged with arson, assault, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief, a DA spokesman said. Walters could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted, Brown said."His actions had the potential of causing millions of dollars in property damage and the loss of an unknown number of lives," Brown said.An FDNY lieutenant received serious lacerations to his face when glass shards hit him after an electric meter exploded at the scene of a fire on 60th Road in Elmhurst which was allegedly set by the defendant, the DA said.Firefighters responded Friday to a fire at a complex containing 80 apartments on Saunders Street in Elmhurst where a fire captain spotted Walters in the crowd, the DA said. The captain recognized the defendant from the scenes of other local fires and, when questioned, Walters admitted to starting the fire by igniting garbage bags and a discarded Christmas tree near the side of the building, Brown said. The building's wood frame was damaged by charring and the brick work was scorched, the DA said. The building also suffered smoke damage, he said. Police found two books of matches on the defendant at the time of his arrest, the DA said.Brown said Walters is being charged in 18 fires during the past five months in several Queens neighborhoods. According to the criminal complaint, the defendant admitted to setting a number of the fires of which he has been accused. But Middle Village residents had differing views on whether the defendant may have been involved in recent fires set in their neighborhood."Maybe he started a trash fire, but I don't think he's guilty of all 18 fires," said resident Robert Doocey. "We've been putting pressure on the police, so maybe they said, 'Let's get rid of this case.'"A DA spokesman said police were still investigating fires in the neighborhood. Doocey said neighbors told him they have spotted teenagers running from the scene of several fires.But Juniper Park Civic Association President Robert Holden said many of the fires for which Walters has been charged are technically in Middle Village even though they have been reported to have taken place in Maspeth."We assume it was all the same person," he said. "It would be very unusual if there was another group of people."Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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