New Brunswick

3 charged with arson in historic building fire

Two men and a youth have been charged with arson in connection with a fire that destroyed an historic Saint John building on Wednesday.

The old Lyric Theatre in Saint John was destroyed on Wednesday

Two men and a youth have been charged with arson in connection with a fire that destroyed an historic Saint John building on Wednesday.

Samuel Nolan, 19, did not enter a plea on the charge of intentionally or recklessly causing damage by fire during his appearance in provincial court on Thursday.

He will be sent for a psychiatric assessment first at the request of the Crown prosecutor.

Officials want to ensure Nolan is fit to stand trial. They have concerns about his ability to understand the legal process, the provincial court heard.

Nolan has been released under house arrest at his mother's.

Roger Chiasson, 20, pleaded not guilty to the arson charge, as well as a second charge of violating a probation order to keep the peace.

He elected to be tried by provincial court and has been remanded in custody until a bail hearing on Monday.

Meanwhile, a 15-year-old has been released on house arrest at his grandmother's. The youth, who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, has not yet entered a plea. He is scheduled to return to court on June 4.

Police say the fire that started in an abandoned building at 127 Charlotte St., at about 3 a.m. and spread to the old Lyric Theatre building was deliberately set.

The old theatre, which was built in the late 1800s, and the adjacent building from the same era, both sustained significant damage and had to be demolished.

The razing of the three-storey brick buildings continued Thursday with two excavators on site.

Police, fire and city officials were on hand, while passersby watched from behind caution tape.

Traffic at Charlotte and Princess streets also remains blocked off.

Residents remain displaced

Meanwhile, the 27 residents of Lantern House, the adjacent rooming house on Princess Street, which was evacuated Wednesday morning, have not been allowed to return to their homes.

About 20 of them are staying at the Howard Johnson Fort Howe Plaza in the city's north end and are receiving assistance through various organizations, including the Salvation Army, Red Cross and Romero House.

The rooming house will remain unoccupied until it's deemed safe, said Deputy Fire Chief Mark Wilson. He said he hopes that will happen within the next few days.

A handful of residents from other evacuated buildings have returned home, Wilson said.

The old theatre, located at 131-141 Charlotte St., in the city's Trinity Royal heritage district, was a designated local historic site.

It was built after the Great Fire of 1877 and started as a stage theatre. In 1910, it became a silent movie theatre, called Lyric Theatre.

The ground floor subsequently became home to a variety of businesses, including restaurants, drug stores, accounting offices and the Full Gospel Tabernacle.

Most recently, it housed the Korner Grocery convenience store.