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Cohoes Man Sentenced For Remsen Street Fire

The man whose attempt to forge a sword in his yard – starting a fire that devastated downtown Cohoes, New York — will be going to jail for a year.

John Gomes pleaded guilty earlier this year to fourth degree arson. Tuesday morning, he was sentenced in Albany County Court to a year in the county jail.

Apparently alone in court, the 51-year-old Gomes had nothing to say to reporters as he awaited sentencing.

Mayor Morse
Credit Lucas Willard/WAMC
Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse

Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse:   "It's truly just a sad day for everybody. I think Mr. Gomes made one of the biggest mistakes of his life and now he's paying for it."

Prosecutors said on the blustery afternoon of November 30th, 2017, Gomes started a fire in a barrel in his backyard in an attempt to forge a sword in a barrel, inspired by the History Channel TV series "Forged By Fire." 

The windy conditions carried embers and sparks to the back porch of Gomes’ home at 228 Remsen Street, then carried more throughout the city, touching off numerous fires, large and small. Gomes own home was destroyed in what became one of the worst fires in Cohoes history. Fire departments from a number of nearby cities and towns were called in.  More than two dozen buildings were destroyed or damaged. But Mayor Morse says out of the ashes came some of the greatest "Cohoes Proud" moments he's ever seen, with residents helping residents as other communities donated money and time and assisted in the restoration effort.   "We're gonna just continue to rebuild. I personally will pray for Mr. Gomes and hopefully that he'll make out OK, and he'll get outta jail and he'll understand what mistake he made and go and live a very productive life."

Cohoes is applying for a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative state grant.     "Right now we're at Empire State Development because we have DRI application for the $10 million so it's kind of ironic that the day that Mr. Gomes is sentenced to jail we're down here trying to win the 10 million from Governor Cuomo's initiative," said Morse.

State Assemblyman John McDonald, a former Cohoes mayor who operates a pharmacy there, says the city has accomplished a return to normalcy, as businesses that were impacted by the fire have come back.  "The core of the business community is back in operation, it's been that way for several months now. In that same token, the state has been able to help out with close to a million dollars worth in grants to help with infrastructure, you know, sidewalks, aesthetic improvements in the downtown area which is part of the city's longer term vision. We were very fortunate after the fire, the governor's office was extremely responsive and in December we were able to deliver some funds to the city, which is gonna help with the overall downtown revitalization effort."

In Gomes' appearance before Judge William Carter to receive his one-year sentence, he signed a document assistant public defender Don Partyka described as a "Confession of Judgement."  Patryka says that if Gomes ever comes into money, be it an inheritance or winning a contest or lottery, those funds will go toward the $620,000 Gomes owes in restitution. 

Gomes’ jail sentence begins immediately.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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