Alleged Westchester Square arsonist out on bail

Alleged arsonist and Van Nest resident William Crean, arrested in September for the Westchester Square fire of March 2009, has pled not guilty and is out on bail, his attorney confirmed. Crean was released for tens of thousands of dollars, Arlen Yalkut said.

It took fire marshals and federal agents six months to nab Crean, who allegedly set the three-alarm fire at around 6 a.m. in the alley behind 21 Latin Lounge, a new business that had yet to open.

The 40-year old allegedly lit and tossed pieces of cardboard into the lounge through a window, police said. Crean was a regular at Emerald Isle, the Irish pub that preceded 21 Latin Lounge at 122 Westchester Square, nearby business owners said. The conflagration spread to five more businesses and resulted in an estimated $2 million of property damage; more than 100 fire fighters worked to extinguish the blaze. In addition to 21 Latin Lounge, Peking House Chinese Restaurant, On the Square Flower Shop, Osvaldo Barber Shop, Rose Nail Salon and National Restaurant burned.

Crean has been charged with third-degree arson and reckless endangerment, punishable for up to 25 years in prison. Yalkut referred to Crean as a family man popular in Westchester Square.

“He’s in good spirits,” the attorney said.

There are no more suspects, as far as Yalkut knows. The attorney has requested additional information from the prosecution, he said. Crean will next appear in court on Tuesday, December 22.

The fire devastated 21 Latin Lounge, which had no insurance. Peking House Chinese Restaurant and On the Square Flower Shop were able to relocate, while employees of Osvaldo Barber Shop, a chain, were transferred elsewhere in the Bronx. Rose Nail Salon is no more; its owner went out of business, Westchester Square merchant leader Joe Regina said.

The owners of National Restaurant hope to relocate in Westchester Square, but have had little luck. The Greek diner looked at a spot on Ferris Place and one on Westchester Square, in the same building as Quiznos.

“We want to be here because our roots are here and our customers are here,” Fitos Andreou said. “But now we need to look beyond the square.”

Crean used to frequent National Restaurant, Andreou remembered. He was friendly, would bring his kids in to eat and sometimes asked to not pay but always paid the diner back, Andreou said. While Andreou will consider Crean “innocent until proven guilty,” he was surprised to hear that the alleged arsonist has made bail.

Andreou and his family, who have yet to collect insurance on the fire, were evicted from 122 Westchester Square.

“We’ve suffered,” he said.

Chatham Management, landlord to 122 Westchester Square, plans to rebuild and re-rent but has yet to find takers. The new building will be one story, possibly larger than before. She was as shocked as anyone when Crean was arrested, Anita Gupta of Chatham said.

The fire rocked Westchester Square, a shopping hub in need of rehabilitation.

“The vacant lot is an eyesore,” Westchester Square merchant leader John Bonizio said. “National Restaurant was the only diner on the square.”

Bonizio hopes the construction of a new building at 122 Westchester Square, a New York Public Library branch, a refurbished park and new store facades will propel Westchester Square into a better era.

Reach reporter Daniel Beekman at 718 742-3383 or dbeekman@cnglocal.com

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