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NEWS | March 8, 2024

New York Army Guard Soldiers Help Track Down Arsonist

By Staff Sgt. Sebastian Rothwyn, New York National Guard

NEW YORK – Three New York Army National Guard Soldiers displayed quick thinking and teamwork to help track down a suspected arsonist who tried to set fire to a building a few feet from a Long Island City hotel housing migrants.

Spc. Jaslin Guzman, Sgt. Animesh Das and Staff Sgt. Richard Miller were on duty at the City View Inn on Greenport Avenue just before 11 p.m. Jan. 29 when Guzman spotted somebody throwing bottles out of a silver SUV onto a collision barrier outside the hotel.

Guzman yelled at the man, later identified as Ping Huang, to stop. Hearing his fellow Soldier’s voice, Das ran outside to find out what Guzman was yelling about.

As soon as Das stepped outside to see what was happening, he saw flames erupt on the fence above the barrier. He ran toward the vehicle with his smartphone ready to capture the offender’s license plate and yelled stop along with Guzman.

The suspect in the SUV moved over to the driver’s seat and drove off quickly.

Das pursued the SUV on foot to get a picture of the license plate. He made it as far as the end of the block before the vehicle sped away.

Guzman also began a foot pursuit, then turned around and got her car. She caught up to Das, he piled in, and they chased the arson suspect.

Inside the shelter, Miller heard the commotion and rushed toward the entrance. He saw the smoldering fire and joined others to extinguish it with whatever they could find — water bottles and any available containers.

Noticing someone struggling with a fire extinguisher, Miller, a military combat engineer and police officer, took charge. He quickly extinguished the flames.

“I could see that others were unfamiliar with the fire extinguisher, so in the interest of time and safety, I took it, followed the steps starting at the base of the fire, and worked my way up,” said Miller.

Meanwhile, Guzman drove her car after the suspect and caught up when Huang stopped at a red light.

Das got out, captured the suspect’s license plate, and maneuvered around the SUV to get a picture of Huang.

Das said he remembered his priorities were to safeguard life, protect property, and mitigate suffering, so he had no intention of confronting the suspect.

“At this moment, I could only think of the children and the families that could be harmed and that this guy has to be caught,” he said. “Catching him is a job for law enforcement, and I’m just here to help in any way I can.”

Das quickly returned to Guzman’s vehicle after capturing the information. Huang drove away when the light turned green.

Guzman and Das returned to the shelter to deliver the information to their shift leader. By then, hotel security had alerted the police and fire department.

When they returned to the shelter, Miller checked them to make sure his Soldiers were unharmed and advised everyone not to touch anything at the scene, including the bottles thrown by Huang. 

According to the fire department, information provided by the Soldiers helped fire marshals and police investigators identify Huang.

Fire investigators determined that Huang, who was reportedly involved in a business dispute with the owner of the other building, was seen on video acquiring gasoline from a nearby station before attempting to set the business on fire.

Fire marshals apprehended Huang on Feb. 6, and the Queens District Attorney’s office will prosecute him.



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