Friday, January 05, 2007

These are the People in Your Neighborhood

This guy used to live in my apartment building.
I would see him daily sweeping in the hallway and foyer.
I always thought he was a little weird, but it wasn't until the fire on the floor above me that I found out how weird he was, more importantly, WHO he was...

what's not mentioned in this article is that the whole Bush St. apartment thing came to light when one night in the wee hours, the fire alarm went off, which, in a large building like mine, happens more often than it should, and frequently just because of bored teenagers. Expecting to be greeted once again by a lot of people coming out in their PJ's to a non-event followed by a return to bed, I threw on some clothes, opened my door, and was greeted by smoke. But not a lot of heat, or flames, or anything of that nature. So I investigated. Went up one floor and there, on the floor in front of the apartment one floor up and on the opposite side of the hallway (this doorway would face me if I were on the 3rd floor instead of the 2nd) was a bottle, like a wine bottle, with smoke coming out. The door it sat in front of was charred black (burned, not smoked) but not on fire. Most importantly, the sprinkler system was going off. WHOA! and DAMN! Because a.) someone set this fire, and b.) the sprinklers were destroying the building.

I ran down and scurried to remove anything that was in that area of my apartment. the water was gushing in from the ceiling. In the hallway, the rectangle slats of the ceiling were disintegrating and bursting out. Firemen finally rushed in to do whatever they do when there isn't really a fire anymore. The water gushed through even to the floor below me. In the end, they had to rip out the bathroom and redo it, and the hallway carpets, and do this thing where they drilled a bunch of holes in the walls and used some machines to dry them out on all three floors.


a day or so later, the fire department or police department ( I can't remember now) called me to find out what I had seen. I told them, and asked if they found anyone. they told me they were investigating to find out what caused the fire. I was like, "um, maybe the firebomb someone planted in front of that door?!?"

The following Thursday I came home from visiting a friend at SFMC to find a big white van double parked in front of my building. The white van had a wide black stripe on it, with big white block letters
As I walked up the stairs, I could see men carrying out assloads of stuff and some computers.
I turned around and went back to SFMC for a bit.

The next day I asked my apartment manager what was going on, as this was starting to make me feel uneasy at home. He told me that there was an investigation to see how the fire started. I told him I saw what started it. I asked him why the bomb squad was there last night. He told me the bomb squad had not been there, but there were detectives. I felt like I was being lied to. Maybe the DETECTIVE car was out of gas, so they borrowed the BOMB SQUAD van? The funny thing was, my apartment manager (who was always kind of a dick) started going on this tirade about "this is what happens when people let people into the building." He was stuck on the idea that non-residents were getting let in all the time. Ironically, HE was the one that rented to this guy.

A few days later, one of my coworkers mentioned she saw an article about a fire, and showed it to me. I still have it somewhere. Yes, that's my building! Holy SHIT, that's the weird creepy guy I see in the hallway all the time. OMFG, that's the guy who burnt his son! Even *I* remember that, and I was like 6 years old when that was news. If it weren't for Jamie catching that in the paper, I would never know what happened in my building.

So, what's not mentioned in the article below, about the Bush St building, is that he (or, someone else, I guess they never proved it?) set a little firebomb in front of the door of a couple of girls he had been stalking. He was also charged with, as I recall, some sort of breaking and entering and stealing debit and credit cards from some of the apartments. I guess none of that ever went anywhere, but they did find a gun and a bunch of ammo on my nutjob psychotic creepyman neighbor. And that during his time at Bush St, he had been working at an IHOP in (I think) North Beach or Marina or somewhere, and carrying a picture of his son (pre-burn, I assume) and telling coworkers that his son died of leukemia.

And so here's to Charley Charles...

from sfgate

Man who burned son could get life
Court says he had 3 strikes, orders new sentencing hearing

A man who tried to burn his 6-year-old son to death in 1983 is eligible for a life sentence under the three-strikes law for two weapons convictions in San Francisco, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.

Charley Charles will get one more chance to persuade a San Francisco Superior Court judge to set aside one of his past convictions and sentence him to less than the three-strikes term of 25 years to life. But the First District Court of Appeal agreed with prosecutors Thursday that the judge was wrong when she ruled last year that she had no authority to sentence Charles as a third-striker.

Charles, now 66, was known as Charles Rothenberg when, after a custody dispute with his wife, he took his son to an Orange County motel, gave him at least one sleeping pill, doused him with kerosene and set him on fire. The boy survived but was badly disfigured and had part of his fingers amputated. The father was convicted of attempted murder and arson and sentenced to 13 years in prison.

He was released in 1990 after serving half his sentence, was paroled to Oakland and later moved to San Francisco. After another arrest and a final jailhouse meeting with his son -- who, according to a statement he released, told Rothenberg he was an impostor and not the youth's father -- Rothenberg changed his name to Charley Charles in 1998. He also bought a handgun, which he said he needed for protection after someone shot at him on Market Street in 1995.

Charles was arrested in June 2001 and charged with being a felon in possession of the handgun as well as 44 rounds of ammunition, which police found in a fanny-pack in his Bush Street apartment. He was convicted of both charges, and has also been charged with credit card fraud and with making telephone threats from jail in 2005 to the prosecutor in the weapons case.

Under the 1994 three-strikes law, Charles faced a potential life sentence for the weapons convictions because of his two 1983 convictions. But Superior Court Judge Cynthia Lee ruled in April 2005 that Charles' arson and attempted murder convictions had to be considered only one strike because they arose from the same act.

Saying the three-strikes law was made for someone like Charles, Lee nevertheless sentenced him as a second-striker to seven years and four months in prison.

In Thursday's ruling, however, the appeals court said Charles' 1983 convictions were both strikes because they involved multiple acts -- taking his son to the motel, giving him a sleeping pill, attempting to murder him and setting fire to the motel -- and multiple victims: his son and the motel owner.

Rather than imposing a 25-years-to-life sentence, the court ordered another sentencing hearing to let Lee decide whether to dismiss one of the strikes.

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