Man saved from burning building allegedly started fire

73-year-old rescued by Hudson police to face felony charges

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Jerry Gutekinst, a resident of 194 Central St. in Hudson, will soon be charged with setting the fire at the residence, from which police rescued him early Monday morning.

HUDSON – Police now believe the man they pulled from a burning apartment building early Monday morning actually started the fire, as he faces felony counts of arson and attempted murder.

Met by a wall of heavy smoke and blast of heat as he entered a burning apartment looking for the elderly resident early Monday morning, police officer Rob McNally dropped to the floor and crawled along until he spotted an arm and a hand.

“I picked him up … these guys helped me, held onto my belt … and we were able to get out,” McNally said Tuesday, gesturing toward fellow officers Alec Golner and Dan Donahue.

Now, as the man, 73-year-old Gerald Gutekunst, of 194 Central St., Apt. B, recovers from his injuries at a Boston hospital, he will soon be charged with the two felony offenses resulting from allegations he intentionally set the fire that almost claimed his life.

Police Chief William Avery said during Tuesday press conference at police headquarters that authorities have secured warrants for Gutekunst’s arrest on one felony count each of arson and attempted murder.

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Hudson police officer Rob McNally, the first officer to enter the burning building from which he and two other officers rescued a man who is now a suspect in the blaze, speaks to reporters at a press conference Tuesday at Hudson police headquarters.

Gutekunst will be officially charged within a week, Avery said, adding that his department is “working with Massachusetts authorities, including Boston police,” on the case, an indication that Gutekunst is still in the Boston hospital.

State and local fire investigators have ruled the blaze was intentionally set, allegedly by Gutekunst, but the motive remains part of the ongoing investigation, Avery said.

The attempted murder charge stems from the fact other people were in the building when Gutekunst allegedly set the fire. Officials said the building, a rambling, roughly 75-year-old structure near the corner of Central Street and Burnham Road, has three apartments.

Police didn’t say how many people live in the other two apartments, but all who were home at the time escaped uninjured, largely because Golner, according to McNally, “cleared the building” immediately upon their arrival, meaning he made sure everyone was out of the structure.

The residents told the officers a deaf man who lived on the second floor was still inside, which prompted the officers to take action.

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Hudson police officer Alec Golner talks about the early morning fire Monday from which he and officers Dan Donohue, left, and Rob McNally, second left, rescued a 73-year-old resident now accused of starting the fire. The blaze was discovered by police Officer Colby Morton, second from right.

A fourth police officer, Colby Morton, discovered the fire, telling reporters Tuesday she was on her way to work when an usually bright light caught her eye as she turned from Burnham Road onto Central Street.

“At first, I thought it was just a light, but then I thought it was odd that it was so bright,” Morton said. When she pulled over and took a good look, “I could see flames inside the top window,” she added.

Almost as soon as she called it in, “these three amazing men” were on the scene, and “they went in and got him out,” she said, referring to Golner, McNally and Donahue.

McNally said Gutekunst was not moving on his own when he reached him, but once outside, Gutekunst opened his eyes and tried to sit up, as paramedics tended to him before transporting him to a local hospital.

He was later transferred to a Boston hospital, police said.

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Hudson police officer Colby Morton, who discovered the early morning fire from which three other officers rescued an elderly resident -- who is now suspected of starting the fire -- describes the series of events at a press conference Thursday at police headquarters. At left is Chief William Avery.

Golner, while addressing reporters, said the officers had difficulty pushing open Gutekunst’s door because “something was blocking” the door.

Asked whether the door may have been intentionally blocked, or a hoarding condition may have existed, Golner said he “can’t answer that at this time … it’s just that something was there.”

Asked if the officers had any time to formulate a plan to go in and search for the man, they all shook their heads.

“We didn’t have a plan. It just kind of evolved,” Donahue said, recalling the flames as “really intense” by the time they got inside.

“We just acted on what we had before us,” added Golner.

Telegraph photo by DEAN SHALHOUP Danielle Cole, a district chief with the state Fire Marshal's office, speaks with reporters Tuesday regarding the investigation into the Hudson fire allegedly set by a resident of 194 Central St. Hudson police Chief William Avery is at left.

Danielle Cole, a district chief with the state Fire Marshal’s office, said investigators called in a bomb squad around midday Monday to check the building.

“There were indications when personnel were inside that there could be a threat to other individuals coming into the building,” Cole said, adding that the decision was made “for everyone’s safety.”

The owner of 194 Central St. is listed in Hudson property tax records as Floyd W. Gorveatt, a resident of Kienia Road in Hudson. He has owned it for more than 40 years, records show.