For The House Fell On Her Head

November 17, 2009 by  

for the house fell on her head(Updated) She was already scared of her mother’s boyfriend for allegedly fondling her. Now, she said, she awoke to find him pouring liquid on her head and lighting matches.

She struggled with him, twice, to break free.

A 12-year-old girl, who saved her baby sister’s life and barely escaped death herself, told that story to police.

Her story emerged in detail Monday afternoon as the court file became public in the tragedy that occurred Sunday morning on Market Street in Fair Haven.

The file became public as Howard Stewart, who’s 50, appeared in Superior Court on Elm Street Monday. (He’s pictured above conferring with his public defender, Renee Cimino.) He was arraigned on charges that he lit his girlfriend on fire; doused his girlfriend’s 12-year-old daughter with an accelerant and tried to light her on fire; then lit their house on fire.

The baby, who turns 3 months old on Thursday, was also in the family’s apartment and was rescued, unharmed. (Contrary to other media reports, the baby was never doused.)

Judge Roland Fasano increased Stewart’s bond from $1 million to $2 million. He ordered him segregated from other prisoners. He placed Stewart on a mental health watch. He issued two protective orders requiring Stewart to stay away from the family, should he be released at some point. Fasano then transferred the case to Part A of Superior Court on Church Street, where Stewart has a Nov. 24 court date.

Stewart and his girlfriend got into an argument Saturday night, after which he left their apartment on Market Street near the corner of Monroe Street in Fair Haven. He returned early Sunday morning. The argument resumed. Then came the alleged attacks and the fire. (Click here for background on that.)

Stewart did not enter a plea Monday. He told police he and his girlfriend had had long-running arguments about allegations that he inappropriately touched the daughter, as well as about “bills backing up,” according to one of the police reports on file.

“Things just went too far this time,” Stewart is quoted telling Officer Robert Levy.

12-year-old Hero

They certainly altered the life — and almost ended the life — of a 12-year-old girl.

The girl lived on the second and third floors of the house on Market Street with her 3-month-old sister, her mother, and her mother’s boyfriend, Howard Stewart. Stewart is the father of the baby. He is not the father of the 12-year-old girl.

According to the police reports, Stewart doused his girlfriend, who’s 35, with an accelerant, then lit her on fire during their argument. The girlfriend ran downstairs to the house’s first-floor tenants for help. She was burned from “her chest and down to her legs.” Though in “severe pain,” she was able to tell the cops who burned her, before she was transported to the burn unit at Bridgeport Hospital. (She remains in critical condition there as of late Monday afternoon.)

The police also interviewed the 12-year-old daughter.

Here’s what she told them, according to the report: Her “mother’s boyfriend did this to them. She stated that last night she told her mother that Howard Stewart had been touching her on her private parts and was scared of him and wanted him to stop.

“[She] then said that her mother … and Howard Stewart got into an argument. That Howard was yelling ‘you believe her.’ [She] said that her mother wanted to wait till Monday to go to the police department to report the incident. [She] said that they argued for a while and that around midnight Howard left the apartment. [She] then said that she went to bed with her mother on the third floor because she felt afraid.

“This morning [Sunday, she] said she woke up because she felt liquid being poured on her head and when she opened her eyes saw Howard striking matches and tossing them toward her. [She] said that when she ran down the stairs to the second floor she noticed the fire [that had broken out in the house] and stopped.

“She said this was when Howard grabbed her, dragged her back upstairs and threw her back on the bed. Howard poured more liquid on her then ran down the front stairs. [She] said that by then she could see the fire coming up the rear stairs and was about to run down the front stairs when she saw that her baby sister … was still asleep on the bed.

“[She] said that she grabbed her sister and ran down to the first floor where she then found her mother and saw that she was nkd and that she was burned. [She] said that the first floor tenants were on the phone with ‘911.’ [She] told them that the second floor was on fire and they left the building.”

The Boyfriend’s Story

Stewart faces charges of first-degree arson and assault, two counts of attempted assault, two counts of risk of injury, and one count of criminal mischief.

The Boyfriend’s StoryOn Monday, Stewart appeared before Judge Fasano (pictured) chained at the wrists and ankle. He wore a Rolling Stone T-shirt, blue and red shorts, thick socks and no shoes.

Karen Roberg, the deputy assistant state’s attorney, argued that bail be set at at least $2 million. Stewart has a history of domestic assault and violations of protective orders, Roberg said. The most recent instance was in the ’90s, she said.

Judge Fasano agreed with her request. He set the bond at $2 million.

Thomas MacMillan Photo

Public Defender Renee Cimino had argued for a lower bond. She also asked that Stewart be separated from other prisoners while in jail.

While he didn’t speak to the judge, Stewart did speak to the cops, on Sunday.

He stopped Officer Andrew Gamberdella at Grand Avenue and James Street, near the scene of the fire. Two other officers, Michael Ostigny and Robert Levy, were with Gambardella.

Stewart “just walked up and said that he was involved” in the fire, Officer Levy said in a conversation Monday. He said Stewart did not confess to committing a crime. “He was calm,” Levy said.

Officer Ostigny patted Stewart down. He “felt a large coil in [Stewart]’s left jacket pocket,” Ostigny wrote in a subsequent report. “As [I] pulled the coil out, I saw it was a pants belt. However, as I was pulling it out, some wooden match sticks fell out of his pocket.”

The cops brought Stewart back to the scene of the fire. Along the way, he asked Officer Levy how if his 3-month-old daughter was “all right,” according to Levy’s written report of the incident.

“What’s wrong with her?” Levy asked.

“Did she get hurt by the fire?” Stewart allegedly responded.

At the scene, Stewart again asked Levy to check on the baby, Levy wrote. He complied, then reported on the baby’s safety.

Hearing more of the details of what had transpired, Stewart “shook his head and uttered, ‘Things just went too far you know, we were arguing about things and…’” according to the report. Then Stewart “put his head down looking at the floor.”

Stewart spoke some more en route to police headquarters, according to Levy’s report.

“Lately we’ve been arguing over everything, paying bills, me not working,” Stewart is quoted as saying. (A separate police report identified him as a maintenance worker at a Milford hotel.)

“She works during the day and when she comes home I go out and try to find a night job,” the report continues to quote Stewart saying. “Bills are backing up and you can’t afford to pay the bill off, so you just pay on it a little and we been fighting about that cause money not there…

“Then she [the 12-year-old daughter] starts with this shit and lies about me touching her to her mother… I never touched that girl. She just lying to cause more problems.”

Stewart is then quoted referring to the girlfriend “all night long saying you ain’t never gonna see your baby, you’ll never see her again, ‘cause you ain’t gonna hurt her. I’ll make sure you never see your daughter again. I’m gonna take her away from you.”

Stewart told Levy he “couldn’t take it anymore,” according to the report. Levy offered sympathy about the difficulty paying bills.

“Things just went too far this time. I hope everyone is all right,” Stewart allegedly responded. “Can you try to contact [the girlfriend] again and tell her where I’m at? And I’m sorry.”

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