Amwell Arson Case Heading to Grand Jury
Township man makes first court appearance on charge he set fire to building
The first appearance in court of township resident Curtis Westover, charged with setting fire to a historic barn on Amwell Road in March, was short on Friday afternoon.
The purpose of the hearing before Superior Court Judge Paul Armstrong was to advise Westover of his rights and to determine if he will be represented by an attorney in the ongoing legal process.
Free on $50,000 bail, Westover told the judge that he has been appointed an attorney from the state Public Defender’s Office. Court records indicate that the attorney is Chanel Hudson.
Armstrong said the case will next be presented to a county grand jury which will decide whether to issue an indictment or return a “no bill.” The judge said that process usually takes two months.
The judge also explained that Westover can apply to the Pre-Trial Intervention program. Criminal charges would be dismissed if a defendant successfully completes the program.
Armstrong said that he found, after reading an affidavit filed by authorities, that probable cause existed for the charges against Westover.
Following the brief court appearance, Westover went with court officials to be fingerprinted and have his picture taken.
Westover, 69, was arrested March 24 and charged with second-degree aggravated arson in connection with a fire that broke out at the unoccupied structure at 697 Amwell Road on Sunday, March 18 at about 7:30 a.m., according to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office.
John Lazorchak, chief of the Neshanic Fire Co., owned the building and the adjacent JML Landscaping. Lazorchak had been trying to demolish the structure and build a 6,700-square-foot office building but was involved in a legal fight with the zoning board of adjustment over the plan.
Lazorchak was away on vacation at the time of the blaze.
Detectives from the Hillsborough Police Department in conjunction with detectives from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office Major Crimes Squad and the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office Arson Task Force "deemed the fire to be intentionally set," the prosecutor's office said.
The remains of the structure were demolished late last month.
After he was released on bail, Westover came to a township committee meeting to ask for help in resolving a zoning issue with his Zion Road property.
That dispute had led Westover to file suit against the Hillsborough Zoning Board of Adjustment in November. That lawsuit, dismissed in February, charged the board with acting arbitrarily in ruling that it had no jurisdiction in a proposed subdivision of his property, which houses his home and his business, B&W Nursery, because of a deed restriction attached to a previous subdivision approval.