New York Army Guard Soldiers help track down arsonist

By Staff Sgt. Sebastian RothwynMarch 8, 2024

NY Army Guard Soldiers help apprehend arsonist
Three New York Army National Guard Soldiers who were on duty at the City View Inn, a hotel being used as a migrant shelter in Long island City, New York, helped apprehend an arsonist and put out a fire he started on January 29, 2024. Pictured are, from left, Staff Sgt. Richard Miller, Sgt. Animesh Das, Spc. Jaslin Guzman. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

NEW YORK-- – Three New York Army National Guard Soldiers displayed quick thinking and teamwork to help track down an arsonist who tried to set fire to a building a few feet away from a Long Island City hotel housing migrants on January 29, 2024.

Spc. Jaslin Guzman, Sgt. Animesh Das, and Staff Sgt. Richard Miller were on duty at the City View Inn on Greenport Avenue, when just before 11 p.m. 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 towards 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 from him.

Guzman instinctively began a foot pursuit too, but turned around and got her car instead. She caught up to Das, he piled in, and they both pursued the arson suspect by car to identify the license.

Inside the shelter, Miller heard the commotion and rushed towards 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, the arsonist, stopped at a red light.

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

According to Das, the suspect was surprised and when he noticed Das, he tried to leave. But the red light and the traffic moving in front of him created a barrier to his escape.

Das said that 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 in his SUV the moment the light turned green.

Guzman and Das returned immediately to the shelter to deliver the information to their shift leader. By then, the police and fire department were already alerted via 911 by hotel security.

When they returned to the shelter, Miller checked them to make sure his Soldiers were unharmed and advised everyone, as a precaution, to leave the scene untouched, including the bottles thrown by Huang. Even though they seemed like harmless litter, tampering with them could hinder the investigation.

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.

According to the Fire Department, Huang was apprehended by Fire Marshals on February 6th, 2024, and the Queens District Attorney’s office will prosecute him.