HUDSON FALLS — The boyfriend of the 18-year-old woman who died in a house fire Wednesday has been charged with murder and arson in connection with a blaze that police believe was meant to be a murder-suicide.
Authorities said Derrick M. Guilder, 22, was charged with second-degree murder and first-degree arson for the blaze that killed Ashley E. Coltrain at their 11 North St. home.
He was arraigned Thursday afternoon and sent to Washington County Jail for lack of bail. Neither he nor his lawyer, Washington County Public Defender Michael Mercure, had any comment on the case after the proceeding.
Guilder was Coltrain’s live-in boyfriend, and the charges allege he intended to kill Coltrain, because he was upset that she planned to end their relationship. (He listed an address on Fourth Street in Glens Falls in court on Thursday).
Hudson Falls Police Chief Randy Diamond said Guilder allegedly set papers on fire on a couch, and then left afterward through a window after leaving Coltrain in their bedroom with the door closed.
He made admissions when questioned by police and confronted with “inconsistencies” in his initial version of events, the chief said.
“His intent was to take his life and her life,” Diamond said.
Guilder had closed both of them in the bedroom, but he “panicked” and escaped through a window by pushing out an air conditioner, leaving her behind, Diamond said.
“He knew what was happening. She had no idea,” the chief said.
Coltrain called 911 around 4:50 a.m. to report the fire, and was advised by Washington County dispatchers to evacuate the home.
State Fire Investigator Greg Amyot said Coltrain was probably disoriented by smoke and carbon monoxide when in the bedroom, likely hurting her ability to get out. She also had two pet ferrets she may have been trying to rescue. An autopsy performed Thursday found she died of smoke and heat inhalation.
“We think she became very disoriented in that room, the smoke was very heavy,” Diamond said.
There were also no working smoke-detectors found in the home, and they might have made a difference had Coltrain been aware of the fire sooner, Amyot added. It was a single-family rental home and the owner indicated they had been installed, but none could be found, Diamond said.
Amyot said the case should serve as a reminder to check smoke detectors as the heating season approaches.
Numerous police officers and firefighters rushed into the burning building to try to rescue her, and were beaten back by smoke and flames.
Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan pointed out the homicide was the third in the region in recent weeks where a young person allegedly “acted impulsively” in taking the lives of others.
Jordan praised the efforts of Hudson Falls Police Detective Scott Gillis and State Police Investigator D.J. Mosher to get to the truth in the case.
Guilder was under Hudson Falls Police and State Police guard on the sixth floor of the hospital as of 8:30 a.m. Thursday, but had been released by 11 a.m. and was awaiting arraignment.
His mother and uncle had been with him in the hospital room at that point. They said they did not know what charges were being filed, and they were not with Guilder when he had been questioned by police.
Coltrain was trapped in a second-floor bedroom of the home when a fire broke out around 4:50 a.m. Wednesday.
Guilder got out and was rescued from a porch roof, but police and firefighter efforts to get to Coltrain were unsuccessful as the fire spread quickly and gutted the home. Her body was found in the bedroom after the fire was contained.
Guilder was admitted to Glens Falls Hospital after suffering smoke inhalation, but police said his injuries were considered minor.
Despite his condition, Hudson Falls Police and State Police investigators were able to question him at the hospital late Wednesday. He was conscious and talking to family, an oxygen tube in his nose, when a reporter visited his room Thursday morning.
Police began focusing on Guilder on Wednesday afternoon, after learning that he and Coltrain had been having trouble with their relationship in recent weeks, authorities said.
Amyot said the fact that she was able-bodied but unable to get out of the home when the other occupant did was a red flag to investigators. He said it was “unusual.”
State and Washington County fire investigators believe the fire started in a first-floor living room area, and that air being pumped in by a nearby air conditioner helped it grow quickly.
Guilder is a 2014 graduate of Glens Falls High School who worked in the housekeeping department of the hospital. Police said he had no prior criminal record, and there was no reported history of domestic strife involving the couple.
Coltrain had worked at The Great Escape amusement park, and Guilder had worked there with her before taking a job at the hospital.
Her mother died of a heart attack at the home on Aug. 27.
The house remained under police guard Thursday morning, but no fire investigators were evident.
Four firefighters suffered minor injuries fighting the blaze Wednesday, and were treated and released, Hudson Falls Fire Chief Mike Fitzgerald said.
Kingsbury Town Justice Michael Keenan scheduled a preliminary hearing in Guilder’s case on Monday at 3 p.m. Mercure said Guilder indicated he may hire private counsel.
Second-degree murder and first-degree arson are both punishable by up to 25-years-to-life in state prison. The latter charge alleges a person started a fire that claimed the life of another.