Man saved from burning building allegedly started fire
73-year-old rescued by Hudson police to face felony charges
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.