Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Man accused in bathhouse deaths talked about setting fire: Crown

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A Winnipeg man accused of igniting a bathhouse fire which killed two men told a friend that they should set the place on fire, a Crown prosecutor alleged Monday.

A jury trial for Justin James Rosdobutko, 29, got underway this morning.

He's accused of manslaughter in connection to the Oct. 11, 2009 fire-related deaths of Steven Yablonski, 23, and Robert Gene Clark, 62, at the Aquarius Men's Bathhouse at 457 Notre Dame Ave.

Rosdobutko has pleaded not guilty. He's accused of setting two separate fires in the building early that morning.

The Crown intends to call only five witnesses in the case, Crown attorney Deann Sahulka told jurors.

"You have heard me say this matter will be brief. That is not to say it will be simple. The evidence will be detailed," she said. "Decide the case only on the evidence you hear," said Sahulka.

In addition to police officers and an expert from Manitoba's fire commissioner's office, a friend of Rosdobutko's is expected to testify that they were present at the bathhouse that morning, jurors were told.

Just prior to the fire, Rosdobutko told the friend "that they should burn the bathhouse down," alleged Sahulka, adding that afterwards, Rosdobutko "confessed" to the friend that he had set the blaze. The fire was not set in the presence of the witness, said Sahulka.

Yablonski, a popular local entertainer, and Clark, who hailed from Saskatchewan, died of smoke inhalation. Up to 40 other people managed to escape the massive blaze.

The fire caused about $500,000 damage to the property. The bathhouse's owner, Somchai Pengpharsuks, lost another business to arson in 1999, the King and Alexander Steam Baths.

History

Updated on Monday, February 10, 2014 at 3:40 PM CST: Steven Yablonski was 23.

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