‘Suspicious’ Tennis Club Fire Under Investigation

Cops: It appears ‘some sort of accelerant’ used
The East Hampton Fire Department was called to East Hampton Indoor Tennis at just after 5 on Saturday morning, when an automatic fire alarm went off in an office building. Michael Heller photos

Detectives are investigating a “suspicious” fire that broke out in an office building in the East Hampton Indoor Tennis complex on Saturday morning — the second one at the complex this year — during a weekend in which several other strange incidents occurred there.

Though he stopped short of characterizing the fire as arson until hearing what town police and Suffolk County Arson squad detectives had found over the holiday, East Hampton Town Police Sgt. Daniel Roman said yesterday that it appeared “some sort of accelerant” was used. “Everything points toward there was something used to get the fire going,” he said.

Around 5 a.m. on Saturday morning, the East Hampton Fire Department was called to respond to an automatic fire alarm inside a building that houses the complex’s office at 174 Daniel’s Hole Road, near East Hampton Airport. Brian Stanis, the second assistant fire chief, arrived to find “heavy smoke” coming from the building, according to Chief Gerard Turza. He called for the rest of the Fire Department to respond.

“Firefighters found the remnants of a fire inside one of the structures that had been contained by the building’s fire sprinkler system,” Chief Turza said. The sprinkler system did most of the work putting out the fire but also caused damage.

The fire chief would not comment about the extent of the damage. There were signs of minor exterior damage to the building during a visit to the complex later that morning, including darkened siding, a broken window, and damage to the door.

The East Hampton Town fire marshal’s office was called to investigate the cause and origin of the fire, and quickly handed the matter over to the East Hampton Town Police Department. Detectives with the Suffolk County Police Department’s arson squad were called in to assist in the investigation, which included collecting evidence. Police were still interviewing people and developing suspects as of yesterday, Sergeant Roman said.

The Suffolk arson squad deferred comment to the town police, as did Thomas Baker, an East Hampton Town fire marshal who initially responded to the fire.

The East Hampton Village Ambulance Association was also called to the fire, but no injuries were reported. 

In January, East Hampton firefighters responded to a fire in a different building in the East Hampton Indoor Tennis complex. A corroded pipe leaked gas into a wooden building and, at the time, investigators said that it appeared that when a heater went on, it ignited the gas. There was extensive damage to that building. The other buildings, including the Clubhouse, which has a bowling alley, arcade, and sports bar and was under construction at the time, were not damaged.

Despite the fire, it was business as usual at East Hampton Indoor Tennis and the Clubhouse Saturday morning. Scott Rubenstein, the managing partner, said yesterday that he was already cleaning up the damage and was eager to get back inside the space, which he described as a reception area for the tennis club.

“I’m very happy with how my police department and my fire marshal and fire department are handling everything,” he said.

“What I’m told is they are going through a standard investigation, which they would do for any commercial venture,” he said. Asked if he was concerned it might be arson, or at the very least a suspicious fire, he said, “I’d be kidding if I said I wasn’t. Of course, it’s unsettling. I know we live in a strange world,” he said, adding that there is a great income disparity on the South Fork. “The gap is definitely getting wider.”

Just hours before the fire, police had been at the complex dealing with a drunken driver who hit several parked cars, drove onto a grassy area, and damaged a fire pit.

Antonio A. Cabrera of East Hampton circled the parking lot erratically in a 2016 Ford pickup truck on Friday, the day he turned 33, at around 7 p.m., Sergeant Roman said.

According to an accident report, Mr. Rubenstein was putting his 2015 Jeep, which is registered to the club, in park when Mr. Cabrera hit the front end of it. Mr. Rubenstein said yesterday that he put his car purposefully in Mr. Cabrera’s path to prevent him from re-entering the bigger parking lot and possibly causing more damage or hurting someone.

Mr. Cabrera had already driven onto a grassy area, leaving tire tracks on the grass and striking a gas fire pit by the outdoor bar and mini golf area at the Clubhouse, the sergeant said. The outside bar is not open this time of year.

After the accident, Mr. Cabrera got out of the car and fled on foot into the woods, but security detained him until police arrived.

Mr. Rubenstein said Mr. Cabrera had been a guest at one of nine holiday parties, this one with 30 people, and that others in his party were surprised by the way he was acting. He also said Mr. Cabrera seemed apologetic afterward.

Mr. Cabrera was charged with driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, criminal mischief in the fourth degree, also a misdemeanor, and fleeing the scene of an accident, a violation. While he has a history of drunken driving, drug, and traffic-related arrests, this arrest was not elevated to a felony because he has no prior conviction for misdemeanor D.W.I. (He pleaded guilty twice to driving while ability impaired in 2003 and 2011, court records show.) According to Sergeant Roman, he was charged with misdemeanor criminal mischief, even though the damage to the fire pit alone was said to be worth $1,000, because the damage was considered reckless, not purposeful.

Mr. Cabrera was in police custody all Friday night and into Saturday morning when the fire broke out around 5 a.m., as he was being held for arraignment at East Hampton Town Justice Court (he was released on $2,000 bail later). Sergeant Roman said he was not aware of any connection between Mr. Cabrera’s arrest and the fire.

Police were back at the Clubhouse on Sunday morning, this time to arrest a different man for trespass and violating an order of protection.

Sergeant Roman said Scott McKallip, 55, of East Hampton Village had been ordered to stay away from the Rubensteins’ home and businesses, but he went onto the Daniel’s Hole Road property at about 8:30 that morning. He had previously sent Mr. Rubenstein’s adult daughter, who works at the businesses, threatening messages on Facebook and was arrested on Dec. 7 on a charge of aggravated harassment, a misdemeanor. An order of protection was put in place, the sergeant said. He was free on $300 bail following arraignment.

Mr. McKallip reportedly told police that he did a loop in the parking lot at the Clubhouse to see if a band was going to be playing there. When police were called, he was arrested in the parking lot.

During his arrest, it came to light that he had also violated the court order on Dec. 21 at about 6 p.m., according to court documents.

He was arraigned on two counts of criminal contempt in the second degree, a misdemeanor, and two counts of trespass, a violation, on Monday. He posted $500 bail and was released.

“I think this is a terrible, terrible situation and that he’s not getting the help that he needs,” Mr. Rubenstein said when asked about Mr. McKallip’s arrest. He and his wife knew Mr. McKallip as a former Marine who was honorably discharged. “The person we knew growing up would not want to do these things,” he said.