Fire sparks Princeton pot arrest

September 23, 1994 (~estimated)

Fire sparks Princeton pot arrest

Drug bust called biggest in borough in two years

By Hank Kalet

Staff Writer

What started out as a garage fire on Riverside Drive Saturday ended up as the largest marijuana bust in Princeton Borough in at least two years. Borough Police Capt. Peter Hanley said Monday.

Robert Pinaire, 37, of 77 Riverside Drive, was arrested after police allegedly found about two pounds of marijuana and a small amount of amphetamine powder in his house when responding to the fire, police said.

The blaze apparently started in a light fixture located in a cabinet in the garage, police said. During the investigation into the cause of the blaze, police allegedly discovered several marijuana plants growing in the cabinet, Capt. Hanley said.

A search of the rest of the house allegedly uncovered additional marijuana plants and a small amount of amphetamine powder. he said. Police also allegedly discovered several marijuana pipes during the search, he said.

He was unsure how many plants were confiscated.

Mr. Pinaire was charged with possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana, possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, possession with intent to distribute in a school zone, possession of amphetamine powder, possession of drug paraphernalia and growing marijuana/

The house, which is owned by the Witt family, is across the street from the Riverside Elementary School, Capt. Hanley said. Mr. Pinaire is a family member.

Capt. Hanley said he was uncertain how long Mr. Pinaire has resided in the house.

Mr. Pinaire, who police say is self-employed, could face a maximum of eight years in prison if convicted of all the charges.

He was being held Monday in lieu of $50,000 bail at the Mercer County Adult Detention Center.

Mr. Pinaire’s wife refused to answer questions about the fire and the arrest when contacted Monday.

Police were called to the scene by someone in the house at 6:59 a.m. when flames were discovered in the garage, Capt. Hanley said. He said that the initial call was made by someone other than Mr. Pinaire.

There were at least two people in the house at the time of the fire, Capt. Hanley said.

Firefighters arrived on the scene within minutes of the call and extinguished the fire within five to 10 minutes, said Rob Toole, deputy fire chief of the Princeton Fire Department.

Fire damage was limited to the garage, but several other rooms were damaged by water and smoke, Capt. Hanley said.

Mr. Pinaire had not been under investigation by borough police prior to the fire, Capt. Hanley said.

Capt. Hanley said the bust was the “largest in the borough in terms of volume in a couple of years.”

In May 1992, police confiscated 15 marijuana plants and about two pounds of marijuana, and charged five Princeton University students and one former student with a variety of drug charges following a raid of an Olden Street house. The raid concluded a six-week investigation.

The fire on Saturday was declared a general alarm — which alerts members of all three Princeton fire companies to respond — because the first crew to arrive on the scene believe that the living area of the first floor of the house was on fire, Deputy Chief Toole said.

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