Hotel worker charged with arson

A housekeeper at the Halfmoon Best Western has been accused of setting fire to the hotel, causing extensive damage and forcing out guests, including tourists in town for this week's Babe Ruth World Series.

State police at Clifton Park charged Kenneth F. Smith, 33, of Lot 38 of the Midway Trailer Court, Clifton Park, with second-degree arson, a Class B felony, trooper Maureen Tuffey said. According to police, Smith admitted to deliberately setting a fire Tuesday afternoon that closed 18 rooms of the Plank Road hotel. Tuffey said Smith started the fire just before 1 p.m. by touching a cigarette to a bed in Room 124.

Tuffey said the room's contents were destroyed, and adjoining rooms and hallways were severely damaged.

Police would not release a possible motive.

Lew Perkowsky, the hotel's assistant general manager, said he couldn't give an exact figure for damages, but estimates the loss of the 18 rooms affected by the blaze which are still uninhabitable as of this publication at more than $30,000. Perkowsky said he expects the majority of the affected rooms to be serviceable soon, but that room 124, where the fire originated, would not be available for "at least a couple of months." The hotel has 99 rooms.

A cursory assessment of the fire yielded a cause by electrical malfunction, said Saratoga County Fire Coordinator Ed Tremblay. However, once investigators examined the television, refrigerator and other appliances in the room, they were ruled out as possible causes. Perkowsky said hotel staff cleaned the room earlier that Tuesday and found nothing out of the ordinary.

Perkowsky said Smith, who had worked at the hotel for five weeks, reported a fire in another room the Sunday before.

"At the time, we thought it was one of our guests," Perkowsky said, adding that the guests staying in that particular room had left disgruntled. When Smith reported a small fire in the bathroom, Perkowsky thought it was done by the guests out of retribution.

Perkowsky said the hotel was sold out on the day of the fire. Most patrons were in town either for the Babe Ruth World Series at Clifton Common, or for Travers' Week festivities at the Saratoga Race Course.

No one was hurt, except for a hotel staff member who suffered minor injuries while helping evacuate guests.

Smith was arraigned before Judge Kevin Tollisen in Halfmoon Town Court. He posted $10,000 bail bond last Friday, and is scheduled return to court Sept. 26. ""

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