By Morgan True, VTDigger.org
Three Central Vermont residents are accused of pouring gasoline on a young couple and lighting them on fire in their Northfield, Vt., apartment as part of a plan to rob them of drugs. One victim died, the other was badly burned.
The three were arrested following the deadly blaze at the couple’s Union Street apartment early Monday morning, Dec. 14, according to documents filed in the federal case. When fire and police crews responded to the scene, they first found the severely burned victim and later found the victim who had died.
According to a report by the chief medical examiner’s office, Brittany Burt, age 22 of Northfield, died of smoke inhalation. The other victim, Efren Serrano, 26, is currently being treated for severe burns at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He is in critical condition, police say.
State Police arrested Tammy Wilder, 45, and Jonathan Zampieri, 33, both of Montpelier on Tuesday evening. A third person, Howard Hoisington, 32, was arrested early Wednesday morning, Dec. 16.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court Thursday afternoon alleges the three conspired to commit robbery, which affected or obstructed interstate commerce, allowing potential charges to be brought in federal court.
U.S. Attorney Eric Miller said that he worked closely with Washington County State’s Attorney Scott Williams on the case, and together they decided to prosecute the case in federal, rather than state, court.
“Together, we decided that this was a case where we the federal system had some better investigative and charging tools,” Miller said.
The three defendants made brief appearances in U.S. District Court in Burlington Thursday afternoon, Dec. 17, before Judge John Conroy. Hoisington had what appeared to be a facial scar over one eye, and his arms and hands were covered in tattoos. Zampieri had a black eye.
The U.S. District Court does not allow cameras, and U.S. Attorney Eric Miller has said his office has a policy of not releasing the booking photos for defendants.
An affidavit signed Tuesday by Matthew Ekstrom, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), details parts of the police investigation into the fire.
According to the affidavit, Serrano told medical personnel that somebody broke into his Northfield apartment, then poured gasoline on him and his girlfriend and set them on fire.
A neighbor told state police investigators that he heard screaming from Serrano’s apartment while he was watching the news. He opened the door and saw Serrano on fire, and called 911.
A confidential source told investigators that Zampieri, Hoisington and Wilder “went to that house last night to rob them.” The source said that the three were planning to steal drugs from Serrano and Burt. Court documents say they were looking for crack cocaine.
Conroy scheduled a probable cause hearing for the conspiracy to commit robbery charge for Dec. 21. At that time there will also be a hearing on the U.S. Attorney’s motion for the defendants to be jailed while they await trial. All three present a danger to the public, according to the U.S. Attorney.
Since their arrest, the three have been held at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Center. After their court appearance they were placed in U.S. Marshal’s custody.