Teen who set fires to 'look like a hero' ruled unfit for trial
Isaiah Hellandbrand admitted to police that he set three fires in four days so that he could rescue people and look like a hero
By David Owens
The Hartford Courant
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. — A New Britain teenager who admitted to police that he set three fires in four days so that he could rescue people and look like a hero has been found not competent to stand trial.
Isaiah Hellandbrand, 18, remains jailed in lieu of $100,000 bail, but will be transferred to the Whiting Forensic Division of Connecticut Valley Hospital in Middletown, where staff will work to restore him to competency.
Hellandbrand has a variety of mental health disorders and is intellectually disabled, a defense lawyer told a judge at his arraignment in December.
A judge ordered a competency evaluation of Hellandbrand and a state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services social worker presented those results Thursday in Hartford Superior Court.
The three-person team of evaluators was unanimous in its finding that Hellandbrand was not able to understand the proceedings against him or to assist with his defense, Audra Beauregard, a licensed clinical social worker in the forensic evaluation division of DMHAS, said in response to questions from prosecutor Christopher Pelosi.
Hellandbrand is easily confused, is not able to concentrate and has auditory and visual hallucinations, Beauregard testified.
With treatment, it is possible Hellandbrand could be restored to competency, Beauregard said.
The judge ordered his commitment to Whiting so that staff there can work to restore him to competency. They are scheduled to report back to the judge on May 3.
The charges against Hellandbrand include first-degree arson, risk of injury to a minor, two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment and first-degree criminal mischief.
According to a Bloomfield police report, Hellandbrand admitted to police that he set three fires in four days. Two of the fires were on Christmas Eve at his grandmother’s condo on Woodland Avenue.
Hellandbrand and his family were staying with his grandmother, according to the police report, because on Dec. 21 he set fire to his mother’s duplex at 64 Vega St. in New Britain and left it uninhabitable.
In an interview with Bloomfield police Det. Robert P. Spellman, Hellandbrand provided great detail about the three fires.
Hellandbrand told the detective that after discovering the fire in the basement of the New Britain duplex, he was able to get his neighbor and her four children to safety before calling 911.
He gave a similar description of events at his grandmother’s condo on Christmas Eve. After discovering a fire in the home, he said, he got his grandmother and sister out of the house safely, then called 911. He did the same for the second fire, he told police.
The detective pressed Hellandbrand, who’d said earlier in the interview that he planned to become a volunteer firefighter after graduating high school. Spellman told Hellandbrand that he did not think he was telling him the whole story.
Hellandbrand eventually admitted that he has set the three fires with a cigarette lighter.
In the New Britain fire, the teen told Spellman that he piled some clothes near the furnace and lit them on fire. In the first Bloomfield fire, according to the police report, Hellandbrand said he used the lighter to start a fire in his grandmother’s bedroom. In the second Bloomfield fire, he said he piled clothing and plastic bags in the basement and set them on fire with the lighter.
“When asked why he had started all of these fires, Isaiah stated he lit the small fires so he could save the residents of the homes and look like a hero,” according to the police report.
Hellandbrand has only been charged in the Bloomfield fires, but Pelosi told the judge that a warrant for his arrest in the New Britain fires is expected to be served soon.
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