Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Accused said bathhouse should burn, his trial told

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A man accused of setting a blaze that killed two people at a Winnipeg bathhouse told a friend just before visiting it they should set the place on fire, prosecutors said Monday.

A jury trial for Justin Rosdobutko, 29, got underway in the Court of Queen's Bench. He's accused of two counts of manslaughter in the fire-related deaths of Steven Yablonski, 23, and Robert Gene Clark, 62, at the Aquarius Men's Bathhouse on Notre Dame Avenue on Oct. 11, 2009.

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

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

"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.

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

Just prior to the fire, Rosdobutko told his friend "that they should burn the bathhouse down," Sahulka said. The fire was not set in the presence of the witness, she said.

DNA testing police did on a cigarette butt found in Room 27 contained a "mixed profile" of two people, jurors were told. Rosdobutko's DNA was not in the profile, but his friend's was.

Yablonski, a popular local entertainer, and Clark, who was from Saskatchewan, died of smoke inhalation.

Up to 40 others escaped the massive blaze.

The fire caused about $500,000 damage to the property at 457 Notre Dame Ave. The bathhouse owner, Somchai Pengpharsuks, lost another business to arson in 1999, the King and Alexander Steam Baths.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2014 A4

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