A man stabbed himself in an apparent failed suicide before setting fire to a multi-family house on Sussex Street in June.
Ertugrul Abaci, 57, of Paterson, who has been charged with two counts of second-degree aggravated arson for the June 9 fire at 431 Sussex Street, told investigators his intention was to burn his belonging so that his landlord could not have them at his suicide.
Abaci told investigators he knew other people lived at the building, but thought no one was home when he set the building on fire. The building is owned by a couple that also owns the popular China Pagoda restaurant. The owner saw smoke coming from the attic window. She went to the building and called her brother, who lives on the second floor. The brother called the fire department. They worried Abaci was trapped inside the building. His door was locked. Firefighters arrived and broke down the door to find no one inside, said Passaic County assistant prosecutor Timothy Kerrigan during a court hearing on Wednesday.
Firefighters followed a trail of blood droplets across the street to find Abaci “gravely” injured from a stab wound, said Kerrigan. Abaci told an EMT and a firefighter that he set the house on fire and stabbed himself in an attempt to commit suicide. A fire investigator found two separate origins – inside Abaci’s apartment and the hallway outside his unit — of the fire, suggesting someone set the blaze intentionally.
Abaci was taken to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center for treatment. After he recovered from the stab wounds, he was psychiatrically hospitalized until September 17. He was arrested and charged with setting the fire on the same day. Abaci told a detective he lived in the attic apartment for 22 years. The couple owned the building for 15 years. Abaci hasn’t paid them rent in five years. Whenever the couple tried to get rid of him, he would go into the China Pagoda restaurant to harass customers and threaten to burn down the building, said Kerrigan.
On the night before the fire, Abaci came into to the restaurant and asked the building owner for money. She told him no. She also told him they would sell the building and he would have to move out.
“He left upset,” said Kerrigan reading from a report. “The next day the building caught on fire.”
Abaci told a detective that he was upset with the building owner because he purchased a $50 vacuum with the understanding that she would cover half the cost. She refused to pay him the $25. He wanted to leave this “cheap world” by killing himself. He set the fire in his room to destroy his belongings because he didn’t want the building owner to get his possessions after his suicide, he told the detective.
Kerrigan said Abaci setting fire in the hallway undermines his stated intention that his goal was to burn his possessions.
Abaci bought rubbing alcohol and vodka from a store. He drank some of the vodka and then splashed it in his room and the hallway. He then lit the building on fire, he told the detective.
Kerrigan urged Passaic County judge Donna Gallucio to keep Abaci in the Passaic County Jail.
“He has made good on his threats. He has lit a building on fire, endangered many people, and if released, he would have no means of supporting himself, no means of social, physical support, nowhere to go, nowhere to live, [and] nowhere to work.”
Abaci was born in Germany. He spent time living in Turkey. In 1991, he moved to the U.S. He later became a citizen. He was living alone at the apartment, said attorney Adrienne Fields, who represented him in the detention hearing.
Abaci has done security, information technology, and delivery work in the past, she said. He has a bachelor’s degree in literature from Turkey. Fields argued his hypertension is a risk factor for the coronavirus, suggesting leaving him in the jail could endanger him.
Fields argued Abaci had a psychological “break” in June.
“He believed chemicals had flooded his brain from disinfectant or sanitization that the landlord had placed in his apartment building. Also, there was an idling car that had introduced carbon monoxide into his brain, and he believed that these things had essentially screwed with his synapses or neurons.”
Abaci has been placed on antipsychotic medicine, she said. He received treatment for more than two months at the Meadowview Psychiatric Hospital.
“The symptoms that he was feeling in his mind – these kind of short circuits — he’s no longer feeling,” said Fields in arguing it’s safe to release him. She said the “scariest part” that would make him a danger to the community has passed.
Kerrigan said Abaci is no longer welcome at the Sussex Street building. Fields said Abaci could live at a shelter.
The judge, fearing witness intimidation and citing lack of family support, ordered him detained. “He put people at risk and in an urban setting where a fire could quickly spread,” said Gallucio.
Six people lived at the building Abaci tried to burn down, said the assistant prosecutor.
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