Lawmakers in upstate New York are calling for a change to the state’s bail reform laws following the death of a firefighter who suffered a heart attack while battling a fire authorities believe was started by an alleged serial arsonist.
Forestburgh Assistant Fire Chief William “Billy” Steinberg collapsed on January 15 while fighting a fire that destroyed an unoccupied summer home on Ridge Drive in Thompson, New York, local newspaper the Times Herald-Record reported. Steinberg, 37, was transported to “Garnet Health Medical Center Catskills where he was pronounced dead as a result of a heart attack, according to the U.S. Fire Administration,” the outlet said.
Posted by Forestburgh Fire Company #1 on Friday, February 4, 2022
Suspect Mohammed Islam, 32, allegedly broke into the home and started the fire using wood from a dresser drawer and paper, a felony complaint, obtained by the Times Herald-Record, asserts. Islam has been arrested and charged with fourth-degree arson and second-degree burglary.
Islam is now being held in Sullivan County Jail on $100,000 bail according to the Post. Second-degree burglary is a bail-eligible offense, per Brooklyn Defender Services.
Before the January 15 fire, Islam had been arrested and charged in connection to two other alleged arsons that were carried on January 10 and January 13 in Thompson, according to a felony complaint.
“On January 14th, just one day before setting the fatal fire which claimed Billy’s life, the suspect was arrested for previous felony arson crimes and mandatorily released from custody in accordance with New York’s bail reform law,” said State Sen. Mike Martucci (R-42) in a Facebook post on Saturday.
Martucci has introduced legislation called “Billy’s Law” (S.8181), “which will authorize bail and pre-trial detention for ALL arson felonies, allowing law enforcement to keep those criminals in custody and off our streets,” according to the senator’s government website.
Martucci spoke at a press conference on Saturday at the Forestburgh Firehouse and emphasized the importance of his proposed legislation.
“Our state leaders should not need any more evidence that bail reform is a failed policy. Before one more innocent life is lost, action must be taken,” Martucci said, according to the New York Post. “Billy’s Law is a practical step with a broad and bipartisan consensus to address the dangerousness of repeat offenders and protect our volunteer firefighters.”
Jim Steinberg, Billy’s father, explained that “the system has failed our community, my family, and Billy,” according to the Post.
“At this time, my family and I are pleading to the New York State Senate and Assembly to change bail reform to protect our firefighters and the citizens of New York, so they never have to endure this type of tragedy themselves,” said Steinberg.
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther (D-100) announced she would propose a bill “to make sure that this never happens again,” the Post reported.