Fire that killed fireman ruled arson, homicide

Posted at 2:15 PM, Jan 04, 2016

A house fire that took 40 minutes to put out and claimed the life of a young Hamilton firefighter is no longer being called a tragic accident — officials announced Monday that the fire was ruled an arson.

Because of that, firefighter Patrick Wolterman's death is being investigated as a homicide.

"Every loss of life resulting from a criminal act receives our best investigative efforts. But, this case is different," said Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit. "It's different because it hits so close to home. It's different because it involves the loss of a fellow safety service member in firefighter Patrick Wolterman. It's different because we know how devastating this loss has been to Patrick's family, his fellow firefighters and our entire community."

Bucheit said the police and fire departments can't release details in the investigation, but dispatcher calls clarified the timeline of the reported home burglary that turned out to be a deadly fire.

The fire was reported at about 1 a.m. Dec. 28 at the home of Lester and Bertha Parker on Pater Avenue.

Officials were alerted to the fire by a triggered burglary alarm,'s Scripps sister station WCPO reported last week. When police arrived at the home, they found heavy smoke pouring out of the two-story building.

"Alarm triggered in the dining room, also the front door and two rear doors," an operator from the security company reported to Butler County dispatchers.

Responding officers reported smoke at the home; neighbors also called in the fire, saying "something looks like it's on fire" and "if you come, you better bring several units."

Radio calls reported fire coming from the basement of the home, spewing "heavy smoke." Additional fire trucks were requested at the scene.

Wolterman entered the building in the 1300 block of Pater Avenue last because they were advised that someone may be trapped inside.

"Battalion 20, if it is occupied, the male and female live on the second story," a dispatcher reported. "Possibly people could be inside. No confirmation that they're out. Be advised, an older man and older woman live there."

But at the time, no one was home -- the Parkers were on their way to Las Vegas to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.

The scene was declared an emergency; a mayday call went when firefighters said they could hear Wolterman's distress alarm sounding.

"I can hear his alarm going off. He fell through the basement," an emotional firefighter reported. "It's an emergency. We need to get him out."

Later that day, Hamilton city officials held a press conference to answer questions about the line-of-duty death, which Hamilton Fire Department confirmed on their Facebook page hours earlier.

"Almost immediately upon entry a 'may day' of a firefighter down was announced," Hamilton Safety Director J. Scott Scrimizzi said. "HFD members rescued the firefighter and immediately performed CPR while transporting to Fort Hamilton Hospital where he passed away in the line of duty.

"This is a terrible day for the City of Hamilton," Scrimizzi said. "Please keep the family and the members of the Hamilton Fire Department in your thoughts and prayers.

Police officials said they could not discuss the details that led to the arson classification.



Authorities are offering a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that could lead to a suspect. Tipsters can call CrimeStoppers at 513-352-3040.

"These are the people who run toward gunfire and run into the burning buildings on behalf of the community," said Gene Ferrara, executive director of CrimeStoppers. "A loss the champions of the community certainly sounds a very higher sound for us, because those are the people that all of the citizens rely on."

Local businessman Jeff Ruby offered to double the reward via Twitter on Monday afternoon, tweeting at Hamilton Police "I will raise the reward another $10 k for the capture and conviction of the arsonist."

"Sadness and now anger. No way a hero should lose his life THIS way. Who did it should also lose his life," Ruby tweeted after the press conference.

Police said the home had been burglarized weeks before the fire.

On Nov. 18., Lester Parker told investigating officers that he lost a number of items, including some firearms. He also said wires connecting his ADT security system were cut.

The couple said they were apprehensive to take the trip out of town following the burglary, but Parker said he took precautions before leaving town.

"I left nothing plugged in, nothing turned on," he said. "We always make sure of that."

The home has been in the family for three generations, according to the Parkers' daughter Melissa Lainhart.

"My dad was born and raised in the house," she said. "There’s so many memories in the house. My kids growing up. I remember family get-togethers in the house when I was a kid and my grandpa still lived there, and now it's nothing, just a shell."

Wolterman, a 28-year-old rookie with the Hamilton Fire Department, was laid to rest on Dec. 31. He was recently married and grew up in the Cincinnati area.

He graduated from Roger Bacon High School in 2005 and earned his fire science degree from the University of Cincinnati. Wolterman also worked for the Colerain Township and Fairfield Township Fire Departments before taking a job in Hamilton.

"You could just see it in his face that it was something he had worked very hard to get and was looking forward to a long career," Fairfield Township Fire Chief Tim Thomas said.