Monday’s arrest in connection to the death of Hamilton firefighter Patrick Wolterman is not likely to be the last, according to the city’s police chief.
The owner of the Pater Avenue home where Wolterman died last December in an arson is behind bars, charged with murder and aggravated arson.
Lester Parker, 66, was arrested about 12:40 p.m. Monday on an indictment by a Butler County grand jury, according to Hamilton police. He was taken into custody at a house just two doors down from the charred remains of the residence that burned on Dec. 28, 2015.
Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit said he believes more people will be arrested in connection with the deadly crime.
“This case is still an active investigation … and I am confident this will not be the last arrest,” Bucheit said, adding that the department will continue to honor its pledge to deliver justice for Wolterman and his family.
“This loss hits close to home,” Bucheit said. “We’re just happy to deliver this small piece of closure.”
The chief noted the $25,000 reward for information leading to the prosecution of the person responsible for the crime is still active.
Parker is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday in Butler County Common Pleas Court.
Police and family members have said Parker and his wife, Bertha, had just left 1310 Pater Ave. for an anniversary trip to Las Vegas when their two-story house caught fire about 1 a.m. Dec. 28.
The fire was discovered by a police officer investigating a security alarm, according to police and fire scanner traffic reviewed by the Journal-News. The police officer told dispatchers there was smoke coming from an open cellar door.
The Parkers had left their residence just hours before the alarm in the home alerted police dispatchers.
“Heavy smoke coming out of it … too heavy to get close,” the officer says in scanner chatter.
Wolterman fell through the home’s first floor and into the basement while fighting the fire. Fellow firefighters rescued Wolterman from the basement and performed CPR, but he died at Fort Hamilton Hospital, officials said.
“On Dec. 28, 2015, the city of Hamilton lost a true hero, firefighter Patrick Wolterman,” said Scott Scrimizzi, Hamilton Safety Director. “Today is bittersweet for us as there has been an arrest in Patrick’s murder.”
Scrimizzi praised both police and fire investigators, noting this has been the most extensive investigation in his more than 30 years at the police department.
Hamilton Fire Chief Steve Dawson said the department never lost faith in the police department, along with state fire marshal’s office and the agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives who worked to find the person who started the fire.
“A husband was lost, a son, a brother was taken, so please continue to remember the Wolterman family in your thoughts and prayers,” Dawson said.
A neighbor of Parker’s was shocked when she learned the news of his arrest in connection to the firefighter’s death.
Linda Wroblewski, who lives on Pater Avenue, held a hand to her mouth three times after being told of Parker’s indictment.
“Wow. That is crazy,” Wroblewski told the Journal-News.
She called Parker someone she knows from passing on the street. He has medical conditions and is bitter, she said, but she still can’t imagine him being a part of the arson.
“As with all indictments, the defendant, Lester Parker, is presumed to be innocent until guilt is proved in a court of law,” Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said in a statement.
The fact that the fire was arson scares Wroblewski, and she said the death of Wolterman that resulted infuriates her.
“I hope if he is guilty they throw the book at the (expletive),” she said. “We lost a fireman in that, and that wasn’t fair. I mean, that guy, his wife lost her husband.”
“If he’s guilty, I pray to God he goes to jail and they never let him out again,” Wroblewski said.
The murder charge carries a prison term of 15 years to life and a $15,000 fine. The aggravated arson charge carries a maximum prison term of 11 years and a $20,000 fine, according to the prosecutor’s office.
Staff writer Mike Rutledge contributed to this report.