Arrest made in Auke Bay fire

Suspect has criminal record; incident caused about $12,000 in damage; cleanup cost $50,000

Posted: Thursday, September 23, 2004

An Auke Bay boat resident with a criminal record that includes burning another man's vehicle was arrested Tuesday night and accused of cutting fuel lines at DeHart's Marina and lighting the fuel with a blowtorch.

The Auke Bay incident early Tuesday left about 1,600 gallons of fuel - mostly diesel - floating in the harbor and flames shooting 60 feet in the air. No one was hurt.

Rickey Gottardi, 45, was arraigned before Magistrate John Sivertsen Jr. Wednesday in state District Court in Juneau. Gottardi is charged with first-degree arson and third-degree criminal mischief, both felonies. Juneau police arrested Gottardi Tuesday night after serving a search warrant at his boat in Statter Harbor, according to the complaint filed Wednesday by Assistant District Attorney Doug Gardner.

Gottardi, who is on probation for other crimes, was sent to the Lemon Creek Correctional Center on $50,000 bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Oct. 4.

"I do think the gentleman's history does show probable cause," Sivertsen said of the arrest. "I think the gentleman's history shows a clear and present danger."

Gottardi has five felonies on his record and other lesser charges including misdemeanor criminal negligent burning. In November 1998 he pleaded no contest to the burning charge in state Superior Court. On Sept. 1, 1997, he was arrested and accused of setting a vehicle fire.

On Tuesday, state Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Coast Guard officials used booms and absorbent material to contain and lift the spilled fuel. The incident caused about $12,000 in damage and $50,000 in cleanup costs.

A motive for the crime is unknown and Gardner declined comment after the arraignment.

During the arraignment, Gottardi sat quietly in a yellow jail jumpsuit. He requested representation by the public defender's office. He told Sivertsen he earned less than $5,000 in the last year and has received food stamps.

Gottardi has been in and out of the court system since the 1970s, and in a 1999 statement said he had two children he needed to support. Gottardi wrote the statement as part of a motion to modify a previous sentence.

According to the district attorney's complaint, on Tuesday Gottardi allegedly told his roommate, James Maher, that he was going to burn up the harbor. Maher said Gottardi left their boat on Float B with a knife and blowtorch with a green tank attached, according to the court document. Gottardi returned to the boat and told Maher he was unable to ignite the spilling diesel, the complaint alleges. He allegedly took another torch from the boat and returned to DeHart's.

When Gottardi returned from the second trip, he allegedly reported to Maher, "Look at what I did."

On Tuesday, a boat resident told Juneau Fire Marshal Rich Etheridge to contact Maher, according to the complaint. City police arrived at the boat at 10 p.m. Tuesday with a search warrant. Maher showed them several green propane tanks and nozzles under the steering wheel. Police also recovered what appears to be the knife used to cut the fuel lines.

Officials were first alerted to the incident at 4:21 a.m. Tuesday, when Capital City Fire and Rescue received a call that the DeHart's ramp was on fire, the complaint said. An Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. transformer was badly scorched, according to the complaint. The transformer contained an explosive pressurized mix of cooling oil and was a risk. AEL&P shut down power to the Auke Bay area while the fire was being fought.

Etheridge learned that the fuel lines, made of a reinforced rubber-like hose material, were severed at the top of the ramp with what appeared to be a knife, the complaint said.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported finding a propane torch with a green tank floating in the water. The torch was in the "on" position and was out of propane.

The fire damaged DeHart's ramp and caused rocks on the beach to explode. No boats were damaged.

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