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Police vow to find arsonist who killed fireman

Posted: 2:15 PM, Jan 04, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-05 09:03:27-05
Wolterman fire ruled an arson, homicide

HAMILTON, Ohio -- Hamilton police vowed to work around the clock to find out who caused the death of firefighter Patrick Wolterman last week. The Ohio Uniform incident Report for the case says it all.

Under the heading "Offense," police list Murder and Aggravated Arson.

"Every loss of life resulting from a criminal act receives our best investigative efforts. But this case is different," Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit said Monday.

"It's different because it hits so close to home. It's different because it involves the loss of a fellow safety service member in firefighter Patrick Wolterman. It's different because we know how devastating this loss has been to Patrick's family, his fellow firefighters and our entire community.

"That loss weighs heavily on the hearts and minds of those of us who are charged with investigating this case, but I can assure you we will tirelessly examine every piece of evidence, pursue every lead and work every angle of this investigation until we deliver justice to those who are responsible."

Hamilton police launched their criminal investigation after the Ohio Fire Marshal ruled that arson led to the fire that killed Wolterman, a 28-year-old newlywed. Up to then, Wolterman's death had been considered a tragic accident.

Now, it's a homicide.

Bucheit said the police and fire departments can't release details in the investigation, nor can they reveal what led to the arson determination. But dispatcher calls revealed some possible clues, including the fact that firefighters found the rear basement door open.

The calls also clarified the timeline of the reported home burglary that turned out to be a deadly fire.

 

The fire was reported at about 1 a.m. Dec. 28 at the home of Lester and Bertha Parker on Pater Avenue.

Officials were alerted to the fire by a triggered burglary alarm, WCPO reported last week . When police arrived at the home, they found heavy smoke pouring out of the two-story building.

"Alarm triggered in the dining room, also the front door and two rear doors," an operator from the security company reported to Butler County dispatchers.

Responding officers reported smoke at the home; neighbors also called in the fire, saying "something looks like it's on fire" and "if you come, you better bring several units."

Radio calls reported fire coming from the basement of the home, spewing "heavy smoke." Additional fire trucks were requested at the scene.

Wolterman and other firefighters entered the burning building because they were advised that someone may be trapped inside .

"Battalion 20, if it is occupied, the male and female live on the second story," a dispatcher reported. "Possibly people could be inside. No confirmation that they're out. Be advised, an older man and older woman live there."

But at the time, no one was home -- the Parkers were on their way to Las Vegas to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.

The scene was declared an emergency; a mayday call went out when firefighters said they could hear Wolterman's distress alarm sounding.

"I can hear his alarm going off. He fell through the basement," an emotional firefighter reported. "It's an emergency. We need to get him out."

Authorities are offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that could lead to a suspect. Tipsters can call CrimeStoppers at 513-352-3040.

The executive director of CrimeStoppers called on the public to come forward.

"These are the people who run toward gunfire and run into the burning buildings on behalf of the community," said Gene Ferrara. "A loss of one of the champions of the community certainly sounds a very higher sound for us, because those are the people that all of the citizens rely on."

Restaurant owner Jeff Ruby offered to double the reward via Twitter on Monday afternoon, tweeting at Hamilton Police: "I will raise the reward another $10 k for the capture and conviction of the arsonist."

"Sadness and now anger. No way a hero should lose his life THIS way. Who did it should also lose his life," Ruby tweeted after the press conference.

Bucheit said police were already getting tips. 

"A lot of folks have called in with information. We know people out there that have heard things, that know things," the chief said. "We're just asking that information to keep flowing.

Police said Parkers' home had been burglarized weeks before the fire .

On Nov. 18., Lester Parker told investigating officers that he lost a number of items, including some firearms. He also said wires connecting his ADT security system were cut.

The couple said they were apprehensive to take the trip out of town following the burglary, but Parker said he took precautions before leaving town.

"I left nothing plugged in, nothing turned on," he said. "We always make sure of that."

The home has been in the family for three generations, according to the Parkers' daughter Melissa Lainhart .

"My dad was born and raised in the house," she said. "There’s so many memories in the house. My kids growing up. I remember family get-togethers in the house when I was a kid and my grandpa still lived there, and now it's nothing, just a shell."

Wolterman, a 28-year-old rookie with the Hamilton Fire Department, was laid to rest on Dec. 31. He was married last May.

Wolterman gew up in the Cincinnati area, graduated from Roger Bacon High School in 2005 and earned his fire science degree from the University of Cincinnati. Wolterman also worked for the Colerain Township and Fairfield Township Fire Departments before taking a job in Hamilton.

"You could just see it in his face,  that it was something he had worked very hard to get and was looking forward to a long career," Fairfield Township Fire Chief Tim Thomas said.