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2 UMass students enter ‘not guilty’ pleas

  • Firefighters responded to a fire at 285 Main St. in Amherst in April. Two University of Massachusetts students pleaded “not guilty” in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown on Monday to a series of charges for their alleged roles in the April 29 fire. For the Recorder/Caroll Lollis



For the Recorder
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

AMHERST — Two University of Massachusetts students pleaded “not guilty” in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown Monday to a series of charges for their alleged roles in an April 29 fire that caused heavy damage to an off-campus rental on Main Street and significant injuries to a tenant.

According to the criminal complaint written by Amherst Police Detective Nicholas Chandler, the fire, in Apartment No. 5, “stemmed from the ignition of the fireworks within the living room area.”

Police obtained Snapchat videos that showed Laban K. Christenson, 23, of Waltham, Andrew Ho, 21, of Hyannis, and a third man, who also may face charges, igniting fireworks within an apartment at 285 Main St. The Roman candle, Chandler wrote, “exploded multiple times while aimed at different parts of the room.”

The men were setting off the fireworks even though another man was sleeping in the room. That man suffered second- and third-degree burns and smoke inhalation, and was brought to the Connecticut Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital before later being released to continue his recovery.

“Their actions indirectly did cause serious physical bodily injury to the victim by means of a dangerous weapon (fire),” Chandler wrote.

Christenson and Ho were arraigned on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a Roman candle), wanton destruction of property over $1,200, burning wood, unlawful possession of fireworks and a miscellaneous fire violation for causing an incident that resulted in serious bodily injury, said Mary Carey, spokeswoman for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office.

Ho was also arraigned on a charge of disconnecting a sprinkler system after admitting to removing fire detectors, Carey said.

Both were released on personal recognizance and are due back in court for a pretrial hearing Aug. 6, Carey said.

The early morning fire at the six-unit residence, located across from the Emily Dickinson Museum, left 21 UMass students without a home for the remainder of the spring semester. Following the fire, the university offered the displaced students free campus housing, meal plan assistance and academic support.

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson told the Selectboard a week after the incident that the victim had come close to losing his life.

“Our guys did a great job in making sure that didn’t happen,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the man’s rescue from the home was a testament to Amherst’s firefighters and police officers, who made sure all people inside had evacuated the residence.

“They did all they could to search (the home),” Nelson said.