FALL RIVER — A 26-year-old former New Bedford man who set a multi-family dwelling on fire last February was sentenced to serve two to three years in state prison yesterday in Fall River Superior Court, Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III announced.

Xavier Betancourt Echevarria pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with arson of a dwelling.

On February 28, 2018, at 1:54 p.m., New Bedford Fire responded to an active blaze at 330 North Front Street, a multifamily dwelling with several occupied apartments, including one rented by the defendant, Xavier Betancourt Echevarria. During the ensuing investigation into the fire, investigators located a Sunny Delight container with gasoline in it inside the defendant's bathroom. The Arson K-9 on scene alerted on the rear hallway as the fire's point of origin and also alerted on the Sunny Delight container.

The defendant, who resided at the apartment with his wife and children, was interviewed by police. During that first interview, the defendant told investigators the container was used by his wife to clean. However, upon speaking with the wife, investigators learned his story was fabricated.

During a second interview with police, the defendant admitted he set the building on fire because he was mad at the landlord, who had begun eviction proceedings against the defendant. He told police he bought the gas at a gas station that day and put it in the Sunny Delight container. He then brought it back to 330 North Front, poured it in the hallway, and started the fire with a lighter he had on his person, he told police. Video surveillance obtained by investigators shows the defendant leave his house, get the gas at the gas station and return to his house.

As a result of the arson, all apartment units had to be evacuated, and the damage from the fire caused 13 people to be displaced at least for that day. It was further learned during the investigation that the defendant recently came from Puerto Rico to live in New Bedford. And, during his district court bail hearing, his defense counsel informed the court that the defendant suffered from various mental health issues which required medication.

Despite prosecutors' efforts to have the defendant held without bail for up to 120 days as a danger to the community in New Bedford District Court, a judge ruled the defendant was not a danger to the public and also refused to set appropriate bail. Instead, the judge released the defendant on $500 cash bail.

The defendant was subsequently indicted for arson of a dwelling but never appeared for his arraignment on the indictment in Fall River Superior Court in May of 2018.

A default warrant for the defendant’s arrest was issued in Fall River Superior Court. After an extensive investigation by our office, Massachusetts State Police Troopers assigned to this office tracked the defendant down in Puerto Rico and brought him back into custody in February 2019.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Shawn Guilderson and the state prison sentence was imposed by Judge Raffi Yessayan.

“I am pleased the defendant was held accountable for setting fire to an occupied building. However, bringing the defendant to justice was made much more difficult by the district court releasing him on bail when he should have been held as a danger to the community,” District Attorney Quinn said. “We had to track him down in Puerto Rico and expend unnecessary resources to bring him back into custody. That’s where he should have been in the first place.”

--Bristol County District Attorney's Office

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