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Niagara Falls City School District employee charged with setting maintenance garage ablaze

Tom Dinki/WBFO News
The damaged inside of the Niagara Falls City School District maintenance garage Wednesday following a fire the night before. A district employee was charged in connection.

A Niagara Falls City School District employee is accused of setting the district’s maintenance garage on fire just hours after being told he was being moved to a lower-paying job.

Rickey Ponds, a grounds worker, has been charged in connection to Tuesday’s night fire that caused an estimated $5 million in damages. He faces charges of third-degree arson, third-degree burglary and second-degree criminal mischief and is set to return to Niagara Falls City Court next month. 


Niagara Falls Superintendent Mark Laurie told reporters Wednesday that Ponds turned himself into the Niagara Falls Police Department and admitted to the crime shortly after the fire. 


“All I know is (Ponds) told the officers he made a mistake,” Laurie said.



Credit Tom Dinki/WBFO News
Niagara Falls City School District Superintendent Mark Laurie speaks with reporters Wednesday about the fire at the district's maintenance garage Tuesday night.

Ponds has been with the district since 2017 as a cleaner, but had been temporary working as a laborer doing grounds work for about the last six months.

Laurie said Ponds had just been informed Tuesday morning that he would be returning to his position as a cleaner, which pays a couple thousands dollars less a year. Ponds is paid $15,422 a year, according to the latest data from SeeThroughNY.


Laurie said that while Ponds did not react negatively to the news, he did call off sick for the rest of the day and ignore calls from co-workers. 


The fire was detected at approximately 9:15 p.m. Tuesday, causing the Niagara Falls Fire Department to respond. Laurie said he was at the scene when the Niagara Falls police chief then received a call that Ponds had turned himself in to police and admitted to setting the fire.


Ponds purchased a lighter at Walmart and used gasoline inside the garage to start the fire, according to Laurie, who added that a security camera captured footage of a car believed to be Ponds’ arriving at the garage at 8:15 p.m. and leaving at approximately 8:30 p.m.


The garage, located behind Niagara Falls High School, contained the district’s trucks, snow plows, tractors, specialty equipment and tools. 


“We believe we’ve lost many of those in the fire,” Laurie said. “We’re still waiting for the insurance adjuster to make those kinds of determinations.”


Ponds is no longer employed by the district, according to Laurie. Ponds is set to appear in court March 11.


Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.
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