RIVERDALE PARK, Md. -- A volunteer firefighter who told fire investigators earlier this year about a firefighter arson ring operating in Prince George's County has been indicted on charges he set fire to a vacant Riverdale Park, Maryland home. Forty-six-year-old Jerry Engle is accused of breaking into the home at 5413 Riverdale Road on March 17, 2008 and setting it on fire. At the time Engle was a member of the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Departmnet.
Charged with Engle is 24-year-old James Martinez. Martinez was also a member of Riverdale VFD and is a career firefighter in Montgomery County, Maryland. Both Martinez and Engle responded to the early morning house fire as part of the firefighting crew from Riverdale.
On April 21, 2009, STATter911.com and WUSA9.com first broke the news about the investigation of a firefighter arson ring in Prince George's County. At the time a handful of volunteer members at Riverdale had been suspended.
Sources confirmed that Jerry Engle provided information about firefighter arsons to Prince George's County fire investigators. Engle made the accusations after he was investigated for stealing firefighting equipment from the Riverdale station. At the time Engle, who has been associated with at least four volunteer companies in the county, was riding with the neighboring Riverdale Heights station.
On May 5, Engle gave an extensive interview to 9NEWS NOW about his actions in the hours prior to the fire on Riverdale Road and other related topics. The tape of that interview was subpoenaed by fire investigators.
Engle told 9NEWS NOW he watched as three firefighters set the vacant house on fire. According to Engle, he left an anonymous letter for the chief and president of the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department alerting them to this serious problem. Engle says no actions were taken.
Engle claims the episode began when he drove the fire engine to check out a report of smoke in the area during the overnight hours. According to Engle, he waited inside the cab of the engine as the three other firefighters on board walked toward the home carrying road flares. Thinking that was odd, Engle says he followed the firefighters and saw them using the flares to ignite debris inside the house. Engle claimed that James Martinez was part of the crew on the fire engine that morning.
According to Engle, he drove the fire engine with the crew back to the Riverdale firehouse a few blocks away. Once there, Engle says two firefighters then left the fire station with a gasoline can. A short time later the call was dispatched for a house fire at 5413 Riverdale Road.
Jerry Engle contacted 9NEWS NOW immediately after a May 4 raid at the Riverdale Volunteer Fire Department. Fire investigators served a search warrant looking for evidence of an arson ring. Engle said at the time a warrant was also served at the Bowie area home where he was living.
Jerry Engle denied being involved in the Riverdale Road fire or setting any other fires, but admitted investigators have questioned him extensively about the arsons. Engle told us he wanted the investigators to administer a polygraph examination to prove his innocence. It is not known if that ever happened.
Engle believes the investigators were already looking at the possibility firefighters were involved in a string of arsons when he provided the information about the Riverdale fire.
According to area fire department websites the same house also burned two days earlier in the early morning hours of March 15, 2008 and possibly in the evening hours of March 16, 2007.
Jerry Engle faces the possibility of 51-years in prison on charges of second degree arson, burglary, conspiracy to commit second degree arson, burning with intent to defraud and malicious burning.
The same charges were filed against Jame Martinez along with making a false report. He faces up to 54-years in prison.
Republished with permission of WUSA-TV.