Crime News

Police link arson case in city to drug dealing

VERGENNES — Vergennes police have linked drug dealing to their Jan. 5 charge that a 28-year-old New Jersey man had attempted murder and arson in the city.

Those charges following pre-dawn fires at a duplex and in nearby vehicles in the Booth Woods neighborhood in the city’s southern end.

Eddy Santiago of Clifton Park, N.J., pleaded innocent in court in Middlebury on Jan. 6 to four counts of attempted murder, one count of first-degree arson, three counts of third-degree arson, and one of unlawful mischief. Officials said he was returned to jail following his arraignment.

City police said they and the Vergennes Fire Department responded to a report of a vehicle and home on fire at 49 Booth Woods a few minutes after 5 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 5.

According to a police press release, they found one vehicle “entirely engulfed in flames,” while a second vehicle had damage to its front end and interior. Meanwhile, police said a nearby duplex had “sustained significant damage to its siding, which had melted due to the intense heat generated by the car fire.”

Police said firefighters put out the blaze, and there were four people inside the homes at the time of the fire. Police also said in their initial press release that a witness told them, “Santiago had told the owner of the house he would burn his house down, and the neighbors’ (houses).”

After getting a request to be on the lookout for Santiago, Middlebury police took him into custody without incident around 5:45 a.m. on Wednesday after pulling his vehicle over as it headed south on Route 30 in Sudbury. They returned Santiago to Vergennes, and he was eventually lodged at the Marble Valley Regional Correctional Center in Rutland pending his Thursday arraignment.

According to court documents Vergennes police had their first interaction with the case on the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 4, when they met with a resident of 49 Booth Woods who alleged that Santiago had slashed the tires of his 2002 Chevrolet Malibu.

The resident told the police officer that Santiago came by at 1 p.m. to collect $500 that was “a drug debt from two years ago when he obtained $500 in cocaine from Santiago.” He discovered his tires were slashed when Santiago left.

An agent of the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) investigating Santiago later told Vergennes police he had seen Santiago’s car in the neighborhood shortly before the resident called in the complaint.

Vergennes police returned to 49 Booth Woods at 7:10 p.m. that Tuesday after being told that Santiago had tried to force his way into the home.

At that point, according to court documents, residents told police that Santiago told them “he would burn down the house” as well the neighbors’ houses.

Just after 5 a.m. the next morning, Jan. 6, a 911 caller reported the Malibu was in flames and “that Santiago set the fire,” according to a police affidavit.

Soon afterward, city police requested a Vermont State Police fire investigator. City police also met with ATF agents at the Vergennes station, who reported they had video footage of Santiago filling a red gas can.

Police also said in their affidavit that Booth Woods security camera footage allegedly shows a person fitting Santiago’s description and carrying a red gas can torching the Malibu.

A search of Santiago’s BMW later revealed a red gas can, as well as $4,250 in cash and two cellphones.

The resident who initially called police on Jan. 4 also recorded a conversation with Santiago in which Santiago says, according to the affidavit, “You gonna lose more than what the (expletive deleted) you owe me,” and, “Y’all car gonna end up just like the other car.”

City police also note in their affidavit that the ATF agents told them they are investigating a November 2021 car fire on Airport Road in Middlebury in which Santiago is a suspect. In that case, a Middlebury resident alleges that he “knows Santiago to sell heroin/fentanyl, cocaine base and cocaine HCL.”

City police also allege in the affidavit they have received “numerous reports of suspicious activity of Santiago and others at 49 Booth Woods, indicative of drug trafficking,” including an “associate of Santiago carrying a firearm near a green Volvo.”

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