Today’s news:

Cops arrest man in WCS arson

On Monday, September 21, fire marshals and federal agents arrested William Crean, 40, for arson in the Westchester Square fire of March 2009. Crean allegedly started the fire around 6 a.m. at 21 Latin Lounge.

The conflagration spread to National Restaurant, Rose Nail Salon, Peking House, Osvaldo Barber Shop and On the Square Flower Shop. It resulted in an estimated $2 million of property damage. The fire also slowed efforts by the Westchester Square merchants to rebuild the business hub, and triggered an outburst of generosity on behalf of the devastated businesses.

The arrest elicited strong responses from Westchester Square shop owners.

“Crazy news,” Peking House owner Jackie Huang said.

Crean is a Westchester Square regular. The Fire Department offered no reason for the alleged arson.

“I know [Crean],” On the Square Flower Shop owner John Kaltsas said. “He was friendly. He would stop by the shop with his daughter. She would hug me and I would give her a flower.”

Crean was a frequent patron at Emerald Isle, the Irish pub that preceded 21 Latin Lounge at 122 Westchester Square; it was his second home, Kaltsas said. 21 Latin Lounge had yet to open when Crean allegedly started the fire; the new bar was under renovation.

Perhaps Crean was upset about the change at 122 Westchester Square; perhaps someone pushed Crean to commit the arson, Kaltsas said. Perhaps not.

Huang also knows Crean. The alleged arsonist used to order Chinese food at Peking House. Huang has seen Crean’s family at P.S. 71 in Pelham Bay, he said.

Prior to Crean’s arrest, Kaltas and other shop owners guessed that the fire had to do with the renovation of 21 Latin Lounge. In March, the Fire Department had stated that the fire started inside the bar, but made no mention of arson.

If Crean indeed started the fire, 21 Latin Lounge owner Omar Pena will breathe a sigh of relief, Westchester Square business leader John Bonizio said. Pena had electrical work performed at the new bar on Sunday, March 21.

“He felt responsible,” said Bonizio.

The disaster hit Pena hard; he was set to obtain insurance for the new bar the day after the fire, Westchester Square shop owners said.

Fire marshals reportedly identified Crean on surveillance video salvaged at the fire scene. The three-alarm conflagration lasted three hours; 140 firefighters brought it under control. Three firefighters were treated at Jacobi Medical Center for minor injuries.

Crean has been charged with second-degree arson and reckless endangerment, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. The office of the Bronx District Attorney will handle the case.

Rose Nail Salon, Peking House, Osvaldo Barber Shop and On the Square Flower Shop have reopened at new locations since the fire. National Restaurant is set to reopen at the old Verizon building on Westchester Square.

The landlord of 122 Westchester Square, who asked not to be named, praised the Fire Department but refused to comment on the alleged arson.

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