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P.E.I. man found at the scene of a suspicious 2018 fire said he was just watching

Prince County Courthouse.
Prince County Courthouse. - Alison Jenkins

A Prince County man accused of arson in a 2018 Halloween fire took the stand Thursday in Summerside Supreme Court.

Nathan Paul Gaudet, 21, was found near the scene of a fire at an unoccupied house on Ascension Road in the early morning hours of Nov. 1.

Gaudet pleaded not guilty and elected to be tried by Supreme Court judge alone. Thursday was the second day of his trial. 

Before Gaudet spoke, Crown attorney Chris White called the two Tignish firefighters who discovered the fire to the witness stand.

Deputy chief Shawn Ahearn and firefighter Tanner Gallant were on their way home from an earlier call when they noticed the fire in the unoccupied house. 

They were about to return to the fire hall to get their gear and fight the fire when they noticed a car nearby.

“We’ve put out a lot of abandoned houses, I never come across a car parked across the road from one,” said Ahearn. 

They stopped and looked around the vehicle, shining a flashlight into the windows. There was a jerry can in the back seat and some other trash.

Ahearn testified he opened the driver’s door and heard dinging, indicating the keys were in it.

While the firefighters were inspecting the car, Gaudet appeared from the woods. 

Both Ahearn and Gallant testified they remembered Gaudet saying, “you caught me".

Neither remembered if Gaudet smelled of gas.

Deputy fire marshal Robert Arsenault testified he also happened upon the scene and stopped to help.

The vacant house had previously been partially burned overnight Oct. 30. Even though the fire marshal’s office did not investigate the first fire, he’s confident it would have been considered deliberately set.

Ahearn said his department extinguished the flames on Oct. 30. They checked the structure with an infrared camera before spraying fire-retardant foam over the area to prevent a flare-up later. 

Defence attorney Derek Bondt asked each of the men if it was possible the Nov. 1 fire was re-ignited from the previous blaze. White objected, citing that none of the witnesses were experts, but Chief Justice Tracey Clements allowed the queries. 

Each witness was doubtful, but conceded it was possible that, even after all the measures taken, a re-ignition was possible. 

Bondt opened his defence by calling Gaudet to the witness stand.

Gaudet testified he got his boss to drop him off at his brother’s car after work, around 7 p.m. on Oct. 31, 2018. Gaudet poured a jerry can of gas into the car, picked up two friends and drove around. His brother didn’t know that he had taken the car.

The friends drove around the back roads, “drinkin’ a bit,” said Gaudet.

Around 11:30 p.m. Gaudet said he drove his friends home, but he continued driving around, “blowing off steam” because he and his girlfriend at the time were fighting.

He happened upon the fire on Ascension Road and pulled over to light a bong and watch, he said. He was never on the property with the burning house.  

When the firefighters showed up, he panicked and slipped into the woods. 

Then, when he saw Ahearn and Gallant looking in his brother’s car, he showed himself.

“I said, ‘You got me,’ because I thought they were getting me for what I had in my car, like the beer and the bong and stuff,” Gaudet said to the court.

The Crown dug into Gaudet’s testimony, first asking if the accused had planned to report the fire. 

It seemed Gaudet was just going to watch the empty house burn.

White found inconsistencies in Gaudet’s initial statement to police and established the accused had lied the night of his arrest.

The trial is scheduled to continue Friday at 1 p.m.

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