Man gets 6 years in prison for starting Ill. warehouse blaze

Ruben Ochoa Cruz set a fire at a RoomPlace warehouse that caused $122 million in damage after getting in an argument with his boss about overtime


By Matthew Walberg
Chicago Tribune

WOODRIDGE, Ill. — A disgruntled employee who started a massive fire that consumed a Woodridge furniture warehouse following a confrontation with his boss over time off was sentenced to six years in federal prison.

Clad in an orange jumpsuit and matching canvas slip-on shoes, Ruben Antonio Ochoa Cruz, 22, apologized before federal Judge Manish Shah imposed the sentence for the April 21, 2016, fire that caused more than $122 million in damage to the RoomPlace warehouse.

Through a Spanish interpreter, Cruz, of Joliet, said he “would like to ask forgiveness” of “the firefighters that risked their lives to put out the fire,” as well as the owners of the furniture company.

“I would also like to ask for your compassion, because it was not a mistake I intended to make,” Cruz said as his mother and family friends watched from the gallery behind him.

 

Cruz, who was referred to in court by the surname Ochoa, pleaded guilty in November to starting the blaze, which occurred after his boss told him he would be docked vacation time to cover two days the defendant didn’t show up for work, according to court records. Cruz insisted he had been at work for those days, and became so upset that his supervisor summoned a fellow manager into the meeting for fear Cruz would become violent.

Cruz’s supervisor agreed to review security video to determine if Cruz had in fact been at work on the disputed days. But after the meeting, Cruz headed back to the warehouse, used his forklift to raise himself to inventory shelves high above the floor, set fire to a piece of paper, tossed it onto the shelving and left, according to court records.

What started as a small fire turned into a four-alarm blaze that burned the 325,000-square-foot-facility to the ground, destroying more than $122 million in inventory, machinery, electronics and other items belonging to the RoomPlace and a host of delivery companies that were on the scene at the time.

More than 35 fire departments responded to try to contain the fire, which took seven hours to extinguish, and two managers suffered smoke inhalation after they waited in the building to ensure that all the other employees escaped, Assistant U.S. Attorney Misty Wright said.

Copyright 2018 Chicago Tribune

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