LAS CRUCES – A man who investigators say discarded the coals from a hookah carelessly, igniting a fire that destroyed five structures in Hatch last week and imperiled two elderly men, has been charged with arson.
Christian Franzoy, 25, of Hatch, has been charged with five fourth-degree felony counts of negligent arson in the March 3 fire that destroyed his grandfather’s house, where the suspect lived, along with a house, double-wide mobile home, and two campers on a neighbor’s property.
Two elderly man were rescued from burning structures by a cousin of the suspect’s grandfather.
Jimmy Vigil, an arson investigator in the state fire marshal’s office, said that the suspect, who lived with his grandfather, Johnny Franzoy, at 102 West Highway 187 in Hatch, smoked a hookah on the porch of the home, then threw the coals into the yard.
The suspect then went back into the house, Vigil said, but the coals ignited a fire, which quickly spread because of strong winds.
Vigil said that the suspect at first denied any involvement with the fire, but then admitted to throwing the coals from the hookah into the yard. He ran out of the house naked after the fire was discovered by a passing relative.
“He was very remorseful,” he said.
Vigil said that the suspect was charged with five felony counts of arson because of the severity of the fires. He was charged with five counts because five structures were destroyed.
“His actions were reckless,” Vigil said.
The fire first ignited the wooden porch on Johnny Franzoy’s two-story home. Wind quickly spread the fire to a neighboring property on Hartman Street, where it destroyed a house, a double-wide mobile home, and two recreational vehicles belonging to James Miller.
Maddy Franzoy, 27, second cousin to Johnny Franzoy, rescued her 80-year-old cousin, carrying him out of the house even though he is nearly a foot taller than she is. She also ran next door and rescued Miller, 90, who was living in a camper behind his house.
The woman, who grew up in nearby Salem but lives in Las Cruces, was driving from Hatch to Salem with her mother when she saw the fire on the west end of town and realized it was her cousin’s house.
They stopped, the woman ran to the house, burst through the front door, and was able to locate her cousin in the smoke-filled house by the sound of his coughing.
More than a dozen fire engines from eight different agencies fought the fire. It took firefighters more than six hours to bring the fire under control. Vigil says that firefighters used 657,000 gallons of water to extinguish the blaze.
Christian Franzoy has been ordered to appear in Doña Ana County Magistrate Court on April 3 at 8:30 a.m. to enter a plea on the charges. A defendant convicted of a fourth-degree felony faces up to 18 months in prison and a fine of $5,000.
The suspect was already in trouble with the law. In July 2018, he was indicted in the Third District Court on two counts of sexual exploitation of children for possessing and distributing pornography that included participants under age 18. That trial is scheduled to begin on June 13.
Blake Gumprecht may be reached at 575-541-5453 or email@example.com.
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