Arson suspected as cause of blaze at judge's house

July 28, 1995|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

A blaze last week that nearly destroyed the $300,000 home of a city judge is thought to be arson, sparked by four separately set fires at the spacious Mount Washington house, authorities have determined.

The one-alarm fire Friday left the house of District Court Judge Barbara Baer Waxman in the 2200 block of Rogene Drive uninhabitable, fire officials said yesterday.

The damage included a partially collapsed roof over the kitchen and a destroyed vaulted ceiling in the house. Fire officials estimated the building damage at $175,000 and the contents damage at $150,000.

"It was just about a complete burning of the structure," said Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department.

Police and fire officials released few details of their probe. Officially, the fire has been ruled incendiary, meaning it was set by somebody. But a source close to the investigation said it was arson, meaning the house was intentionally burned.

The source said investigators found four places where the blaze began -- three inside the dwelling and one outside -- and no signs of forced entry. The source said police believe a flammable substance was used, but extensive tests have come back inconclusive. "Whoever did it knew what they were doing," the source said.

Judge Waxman, 41, could not be reached for comment. Chief District Court Judge Robert F. Sweeney, who talked to her briefly Wednesday, said she was staying with her sister. "She was distraught," the chief judge said.

Judge Sweeney said Judge Waxman, a former assistant state's attorney, "could not recall any case that she had been involved in that might have engendered this kind of hostility."

The judge said he could not remember a fire in Maryland targeting a judge "in my memory. It is every judge's nightmare, . . . Her house burned to the ground and she had only the clothes on her back."

Investigators are trying to sort through a confusing array of evidence and circumstances related to the blaze.

The Fire Department received the first emergency call a few minutes after 11:30 a.m. from a private alarm company. Engine 45 and Truck 27, from the Cross Country Boulevard station, arrived at 11:44 a.m.

A source said firefighters walked around the house, went up on a wrap-around deck and peered through a sliding glass door, seeing only a dog leash on the floor. Finding no signs of fire, the source said they left at 12:01 p.m.

The source said the alarm somehow had been reset -- the only way it could be done was by punching in a code from inside the house. Investigators are trying to determine how this was done.

A few minutes later, another private alarm signal came into the Fire Department. Firefighters arrived back at the house at 12:11 p.m. and found it engulfed in flames. The source said that by that time, the emergency 911 dispatching center had received many phone calls from area residents.

In a statement to police, Judge Waxman's husband, Carl Maimon Waxman, a 42-year-old optometrist, said he had left the house at 11:20 a.m. and was riding his bicycle when the fire broke out, the source said. His wife was working.

The source also said police found footprints leading from a stream to the back of the house, which sits on nearly 2 acres across the street from the 150-unit Ivymount Apartments.

Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, would not comment on details of the case, which is being handled by the department's arson squad.

He said detectives searched the house Wednesday to recover evidence. The spokesman would not disclose what the detectives found, saying release of the information "could destroy the integrity of the case."

Agent Weinhold also would not say whether police have a suspect. "Investigators are currently exploring every single avenue possible," he said. "We have not ruled out any possibilities."

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