OCEAN CITY — A local man is being held without bond after allegedly setting fire to an unoccupied and condemned apartment building he was in the process of buying near the base of the Route 50 bridge early last Tuesday morning.
Around 3:50 a.m. last Tuesday, the Ocean City Fire Department was dispatched to the Bridgeview Apartments on North Division Street near the foot of the Route 50 Bridge for a reported building fire. Firefighters arrived and extinguished a fire burning on the outside of the two-story, wood-framed unoccupied structure. The fire damage was located on the west side of the structure adjacent to Dayton Lane.
Senior staff members of the Ocean City Fire Marshal’s Office arrived and conducted an origin and cause investigation and determined the cause of the fire was incendiary.
A roughly 10-foot by 20-foot section of the exterior of the building was burned and the interior of several unoccupied units were filled with smoke. The Fire Marshal’s Office contacted the building’s owner, who indicated he currently owned the building, but was in the process of drawing up a contract to sell it to Charles Correll, Jr., 60, of Ocean City, according to police reports.
While the unoccupied and condemned building held some value, the town of Ocean City previously bore the cost of boarding up the property estimated at a little over $2,000. The boards provided by the town had to be removed to facilitate fire extinguishment efforts and it is expected to cost a similar amount to return the structure to a safe state to restrict unauthorized entry until the building can be demolished.
According to police reports, fire marshal’s office investigators recovered debris from the scene that smelled strongly of an ignitable liquid. The deputy chief fire marshal reviewed City Watch camera footage from the area of North Division Street facing the gas station on the corner.
On the footage at around 3:45 a.m., the deputy chief fire marshal observed a suspect walk from the north side of the gas station parking lot carrying an orange five-gallon bucket. According to police reports, the suspect appeared to have purchased gasoline from a gas pump using a card, fill the orange bucket and then walk away to the north side of the gas station.
The deputy chief fire marshal alerted Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officers on the scene to be on the lookout for a person of interest matching the description. A short time later, OCPD officers located a male matching the description walking at 1st Street. The deputy chief fire marshal walked to the location and observed a suspect later identified and known to OCPD officers as Correll.
According to police reports, Correll was wearing the same clothes, hat and flip-flops as the suspect observed in the City Watch video footage. Fire Marshal’s Office investigators questioned Correll about his whereabouts during the evening, and during the interview, Correll repeatedly placed his hands in his pockets.
When asked to remove his hands from his pockets, Correll reportedly became agitated and began dumping their contents. According to police reports, Correll discarded on the ground a bank card, a butane lighter and a pack of cigarettes. Investigators asked Correll several questions about the fire, of which he denied knowledge, according to police reports.
Correll did reportedly tell investigators he did not own the building, but was that he was trying to buy it. Correll reportedly told investigators he wanted to demolish the building in order to build a house. Investigators asked Correll, “Did you mean to hurt anyone at the fire?” According to police reports, Correll, looked at his feet and replied “no,” according to police reports.
Shortly thereafter, Correll reportedly told investigators he wanted to speak with the mayor and that he wanted to show them documents he had regarding issues with the city and the property. Investigators accompanied Correll to his unit at a nearby hotel where he showed them an unsigned contract with the building’s owner to purchase the property.
Meanwhile, Fire Marshal’s Office investigators interviewed the gas station clerk who had worked the evening prior to the fire. The clerk told investigators around 6 p.m. the evening before, Correll approached him acting oddly and asked to purchase gasoline, according to police reports.
The clerk told investigators Correll did not have a gas can, but asked if the purchased gasoline could be deposited in an orange Home Depot bucket kept at the station and filled with sand to deposit cigarette butts. The clerk denied the request and aske Correll, why he needed the gasoline. Correll pointed at the Bridgeview Apartments and told the clerk he intended to set fire to the building and told the clerk not to tell anyone, according to police reports.
The clerk told investigators the orange bucket was now missing from the gas station. It was later found on the ground near the rear of the Bridgeview Apartments. Correll was arrested and charged with second-degree arson, arson threat, and first- and second-degree malicious burning. Following a bail review hearing last Thursday, Correll was ordered to be held without bond.