Thursday, August 13, 2009

Teen Charged with Arson at Kissena Park Golf Course

A 17-year-old Fresh Meadows resident has been charged with arson after allegedly setting a fire at the Kissena Park Golf Course that caused more than $400,000 in damages.

Christopher Casella, of 197-01 58th Avenue, has been charged with 39 counts of third-degree arson and one count of second-degree criminal mischief. He is accused of pouring gasoline and starting a fire that destroyed 38 golf carts and damaged the clubhouse pro shop. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison and was awaiting arraignment in Queens Criminal Court after his arrest on Monday morning.

According to the criminal complaint, Casella and two unknown accomplices were caught on video surveillance tapes at the golf course, located on Booth Memorial Avenue, around midnight on June 24. The three are seen climbing over a fence into a parking area where the 38 carts were parked. They then pour liquid over the carts before climbing back over the fence. At that point, a flame comes over the top of the fence onto the park carts and the entire area goes up in flames, according to authorities.

The golf course manager told investigators that a 50-gallon tank containing gasoline used to fuel the carts is kept within the parking area. The damage to the course and equipment is estimated to be in excess of $407,000.

“The defendant is charged with setting a fire that caused extensive damage to a recreational facility that serves the community,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. “The fire could easily have caused serious injuries to responding firefighters or any people who may have been on or around the golf course. This was no teenage prank. It is a serious crime that will be dealt with accordingly.”

The investigation took a strange turn when, about five hours after the two-alarm fire was extinguished, police found the body of an Asian man in his 20s hanging from a tree in the woods near the scene. Investigators believe the death was a suicide and is not related to the fire.

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