Suspect in A-Mart arson had been banned from store months earlier

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PITTSFIELD — The man accused of torching the A-Mart store Tuesday apparently started the fire because he was angry that he had been denied service at the store because he was intoxicated.

Thomas Roberts, 51, was ordered held without bail after his arraignment Thursday, pending a dangerousness hearing Monday.

Roberts, listed in court documents as homeless, previously had been banned by the A-Mart Convenience & Liquor Store for trying to start a fire inside the store. Police said they have interacted with him nearly three dozen times this year, including at least one case involving a fire and another in which he was accused of causing a disturbance in a different store. He was released from jail Tuesday; it was unclear on what charges he was being held.

A store employee told police about an interaction Tuesday night with a customer, later identified as Roberts, who was denied alcohol because he appeared intoxicated and who caused a disturbance in the store before leaving.

The employee said they recognized the customer as having been barred from the store in August, after trying to light some milk crates on fire.

Roberts, who was captured on video surveillance Tuesday night, can be seen walking toward a nearby trash bin outside the store, and retrieving what appeared to be a cardboard box and paper bags. He then placed them at the southwest corner of the building and appears to light the box on fire and walk away.

Flames can be seen within minutes, police said. The fire was reported about 10:24 p.m., while the store was open.

City firefighter Troy Ziter dislocated his shoulder while fighting the fire, according to city police. He was treated at Berkshire Medical Center and released.

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The store was described as a total loss, although firefighters were able to save the adjoining barbershop.

Roberts was arrested without incident about 6:12 p.m. Wednesday, after a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

He reportedly told police he thought he saw the business owner leave the building, and that he didn't intend to harm anyone.

He pleaded not guilty in Central Berkshire District Court on Thursday to charges of arson and injuring a firefighter in the blaze.

Roberts also was arrested in March, for allegedly setting a large bush on fire outside Morningside Baptist Church, and was charged with malicious destruction of property.

And he has an open case on charges of assault and battery, threatening to commit a crime and trespassing for reportedly causing a disturbance at the Lipton Mart on North Street on Aug. 5. He was served with a no-trespass notice, and allegedly went back inside, threatened and assaulted an employee.

The outcome of those cases was unclear.

Bob Dunn can be reached at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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