TERRENCE TRUITT IN CUSTODY
Police, Fire Chiefs Detail What’s Known
By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – Within hours of Saturday morning’s fire that claimed the life of former Oneonta firefighter John D. Heller, the leads began to pour in.
“We had more than 70 leads,” said Police Chief Doug Brenner an hour ago at a press conference held jointly with Fire Chief Pat Pidgeon. “And the investigation is continuing.”
The men reported Terrence Truitt, 34, Oneonta, was arrested and charged with first-degree arson, which investigators believe started on the second floor of 5 Walling Ave.
Heller and his fiancee, Amber Roe, lived on the top floor, and had their four nephews staying with them that night. Heller and Roe helped the children escape, but then was unable to get out of the building.
“John D. Heller lost his life rescuing others,” said Brenner. “We launched an immediate investigation into the fire, and on Sunday, the state Department of Fire Prevention and Control said that all accidental causes for the start of the fire had been eliminated.
“And it became a criminal felony investigation.”
Truitt was arraigned in the City of Oneonta court before being remanded to the Otsego County Jail. District Attorney John Muehl may make recommendations for additional charges.
According to Brenner, Truitt had a criminal record, but no prior arrests for arson.
Heller’s family, including his fiancee, Amber Roe, was in the audience during the press conference. Also present was Erika Heller, his sister-in-law and the mother of the four nephews Heller and Roe rescued.
“John saved people’s lives every day,” Roe said. “We were at an event one time and I heard a man gasp, and when I looked over, he was already helping him to the ground and taking his pulse. Another time, he helped rescue a woman whose leg was trapped by her car in the Dunkin Donuts parking lot.”
An on-call and part-time firefighter for the city from 2002-09, Heller worked as a Life Skills supervisor at Oneonta Job Corps Academy. “We’re devastated,” said Job Corps director Chris Kuhn, who attended the press conference. “He was a good man, a hero every day and part of a tight-knit community.”
He said that grief counseling has been made available to Job Corps students.
“Every single person in the city is very proud of him,” said Mayor Gary Herzig. “He represents all of us at our best.”