The Zion Road man charged with setting fire to an Amwell Road barn in March has lost his appeal of a court decision that dismissed his suit over a fire that destroyed his own barn in 2005.
, had sued Jersey Central Power & Light in connection with an Aug, 3, 2005 blaze that destroyed the 40-foot by 40-foot barn and all of its contents. Smoke from the blaze at the could be seen as far away as the Somerville Circle.
That suit was dismissed in Superior Court and Westover appealed that ruling to the appellate court which, on Thursday, affirmed that decision.
In the suit, Westover and his wife, Joyce, alleged the electrical service conductors, owned and maintained by JCP&L, on the electrical wires leading to the barn had caused the fire.
Hillsborough Fire Marshall Christopher Weniger concluded in his report that the fire was caused by “arcing electrical equipment,” according to court papers. Weniger testified in a deposition that when he arrived at the fire, he saw “power lines actively arcing in the rear of the building.” He noted that the arcing power lines started the fire, but he did not know what had caused the break in the wires.
When they filed their suit against JCP&L nearly two years after the fire, the Westovers alleged that the utility was liable for the fire by failing to inspect and maintain its equipment.
To support their argument, the Westovers relied on expert reports by professional engineer Sidney Rubinm, of Plick and Associates, Forensic Engineers. But JCP&L argued that Rubin’s testimony should not be allowed—that a short circuit in JCP&L’s electrical service conductor had caused the wire to break—because he failed to provide a basis for that conclusion, according to court papers.
The court agreed with JCP&L, saying that Rubin’s findings were “bare conclusions unsupported by any factual evidence.” JCP&L then moved for dismissal of the suit and the Westovers then argued that no expert testimony was needed because JCP&L had admitted it did not perform maintenance on the conductor.
But the court disagreed, saying that expert testimony was required to describe how a utility maintains its equipment. The court then granted summary judgment to JCP&L and the Westovers appealed that decision to the appellate court.
The appellate court agreed with the lower court, saying that Rubin’s report failed “to systematically explain how and why the short circuit occurred. Are we to assume that short circuits occur spontaneously?”
The appellate court, in addressing Rubin’s “unsupported musings,” ruled “nowhere in Rubin’s reports are there any detailed technical or scientific explanations of how the short circuit occurred.”
Westover, 69, was arrested March 24 and in connection with 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 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.