Retired Trenton police officer’s house set on fire, officials say it’s arson
Law enforcement officials are investigating a fire that ignited Wednesday morning on the porch of a home owned by retired Trenton Police Sergeant Luddie Austin, whose son was shot and killed last year.
“I don’t have enough supporting evidence to say it was a direct attack on me, but if you attack my family you attack me as well,” Austin said. “When I was a police officer, there were death threats against me, including threats to burn down my house. They know my family lives here, and this was a threat to my family.”
According to law enforcement, fire officials were dispatched to the Austin’s Spring Street home shortly after midnight Wednesday. But by the time they arrived, the fire had been extinguished by Austin’s family. Police say an unknown suspect or suspects placed a plastic bag of clothes on the porch near the front door, and then set the clothes on fire.
According to Austin’s niece Dyishanay Austin, around midnight she heard noises coming from the side of the house. She initially thought there was a raccoon or possum digging through trash, but a few minutes later she heard something “ticking” near the front door. Dyishanay then walked downstairs, and that’s when she saw flames on the outside of the house.
“The flames were visible from the inside, and we thought the whole porch was on fire,” Austin’s uncle Michael Austin said.
Dyishanay Austin then notified Michael and her father who were in the house asleep. Her father then ran downstairs and was just about to open the front door to investigate the matter when Dyishanay warned him not to.
“If he had opened the door, the fire would have spread into the house,” Dyishanay Austin said.
So, the family exited through the back door, walked around to the front of the house, and tossed water on the blaze until they extinguished it.
“We were lucky,” Austin’s mom Shirley Austin said.
Officials are still investigating the fire, but police said that it is definitely an arson case. The fire was contained to the front door, police said. But the Austins will have to replace the door and door frame. The fire did not extend into the house.
“We were blessed,” Shirley Austin said. “If this curtain on the back of the door had caught on fire, this whole room would’ve went up in flames.”
Austin’s son, James Austin, was shot and killed in February last year. Robert Bartley and Raheem Currie were arrested in connection with Austin’s death a day after the murder. And in November, a grand jury indicted them on charges of murder, conspiracy and two weapons offenses.
Austin is unsure whether the fire was started in connection with his son’s death, but he’s confident the blaze was lit intentionally.
“The level of respect for authority in this city is very low,” Austin said. “The way the porch is designed, they would’ve had to walk onto the porch to light the fire. This was set deliberately.”
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating the case along with Trenton Police Detective Thomas Brophy who can be reached at 609-989-4148.
Anyone with information may also call (609) 989-6406, or use the Trenton police confidential tip line at (609) 989-3663. Tipsters may also call the Trenton Crime Stoppers tipline at (609) 278-8477. Those wishing to text a tip can send a message labeled TCSTIPS to Trenton Crime Stoppers at 274637.