No local fires tied to arson suspect
PETERBOROUGH — Former Peterborough firefighter Gregory J. Potter remains in Strafford County Jail in Dover following his arraignment Tuesday on five charges of arson. Meanwhile, a State Fire Marshal’s Office investigator says there is no evidence linking Potter to any fires in the Peterborough area.
Potter, 22, has been accused of setting fires at five buildings in Durham, all with people inside, early on the morning of Feb. 2. The fires occurred between 1:06 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., four of them on Main Street and one on Smith Park Lane.
According to a report in Foster’s Daily Democrat, a Seacoast-area paper published in Dover, the Smith Park Lane fire nearly killed at least three people while they were sleeping. Deputy Police Chief Rene Kelley said that the residents at 4 Smith Park Lane awoke to the sound of a fire crackling and heavy smoke filling the air in the apartment they rented. “It was a very close call,” Kelley told the Dover paper. “This could have easily resulted in multiple fatalities.”
Potter is also charged with three counts of criminal mischief, because three vehicles parked nearby were damaged by the Smith Park Lane fire. And he is charged with falsifying evidence, for allegedly deleting photographs from his cell phone in order to impair the investigation into the fire.
According to Peterborough Town Administrator Pam Brenner, Potter was an on-call firefighter and EMT in Peterborough from June 2011 until mid-February of this year, when he was placed on unpaid administrative leave after the town was notified that he was a suspect in an arson investigation. He resigned from his job in Peterborough on April 1.
Keith Rodenhiser, an investigator with the N.H. State Fire Marshal’s Office, said the Potter case prompted a review of suspicious fires that had occurred in the Peterborough area.
“As a result of the Potter investigation we did reexamine the few undetermined fires we have had in the past few years,” Rodenhiser wrote in an email to the Ledger-Transcript on Tuesday . “At this time, we have no new information or physical evidence linking Potter to these few fires. As such, any potential involvement by Potter can ultimately not be ruled in or out.
“As always, should any new information be developed as a result of the arrest, we will analyze the data and see if it fits any fire losses in Peterborough or any other community.”
According to the report in Foster’s Daily Democrat, Potter appeared by video Tuesday at his arraignment in 7th Circuit Court, Dover. Assistant County Attorney Timothy Sullivan told Judge Sawako Gardner that bail should remain at $100,000 cash because Potter was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crimes, and rehabilitation through a sobriety program would not be helpful. He said the nature of the crimes show that Potter is a danger to society.
Gardner kept bail at $100,000 cash, with a condition that Potter is prohibited from entering the town of Durham and the campus of the University of New Hampshire. Foster’s reported that Potter was a student at UNH from September 2009 to December 2009 and from September 2010 to December 2010.
A probable cause hearing was scheduled for Sept. 26.
Potter is the son of James Potter, a doctor at Jaffrey Family Medicine who is affiliated with Monadnock Community Hospital. The Ledger-Transcript was unable to contact James Potter for comment on Wednesday.
Potter graduated from ConVal High School in the class of 2009 and was active in band activities, according to the 2009 ConVal yearbook. David Aines, the former band director at ConVal, said Tuesday that he was surprised to hear about the charges.
“Greg was kind and thoughtful and well liked. He was a great kid,” Aines said.
In his April 1 resignation letter to Fire Chief Joseph Lenox, supplied to the Ledger-Transcript by Brenner, Potter wrote:
“Dear Chief Lenox,
“I hereby tender my resignation at Peterborough Fire and Rescue effective immediately due to personal reasons. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to you and the members of your department. I can’t thank you enough for the experience I have had, the lessons I have learned, and the knowledge I have gained. The last two years have bettered me as a person, and provided me with a family away from home.”
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.