Wife says defendant threatened to burn down topless coffee shop

Posted Dec. 15, 2011, at 1:16 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 27, 2012, at 2:02 p.m.
Donald Crabtree (right), owner of the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop, speaks with Krista MacIntyre, a waitress at the coffee shop, as they sit outside of the shop Wednesday, June 3, 2009, in Vassalboro, Maine.
Joel Page | AP
Donald Crabtree (right), owner of the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop, speaks with Krista MacIntyre, a waitress at the coffee shop, as they sit outside of the shop Wednesday, June 3, 2009, in Vassalboro, Maine.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The wife of the man charged with torching a topless coffee shop in Vassalboro testified Thursday that her husband threatened to “burn the [expletive] place down” just days before it was leveled by fire on June 3, 2009.

Tara Bellavance of Augusta told jurors that Raymond J. Bellavance, 50, of Winthrop made the statement during a cookout at the home where she was then living in West Gardiner. She also said that Bellavance was physically abusive.

“I loved him to death and he beat me daily,” she told the jury.

When asked if her husband was sitting at the defense table, Tara Bellavance said, “No, he’s not there.” When asked a second time to identify him, she said she did not have her glasses with her and did not see him in the courtroom.

Raymond Bellavance is charged with two counts of arson in connection with the fire at the former motel on Route 3. One count alleges that he deliberately set the blaze to cause damage. The other alleges he recklessly endangered a person or property.

Alan Kelley, deputy district attorney for Kennebec County, said in his opening statement Wednesday that the defendant made good on his threat.

“Mr. Bellavance is a fighter and a lover, but not an arsonist,” defense attorney Andrews Campbell of Bowdoinham told the jury in his opening statement.

Tara Bellavance said she married Raymond Bellavance in March 2008 but the relationship quickly soured and they separated after a few months. She testified Thursday that the two have not lived together since but are still legally married.

She said he made the threat to burn down the topless coffee shop on May 31, 2009, when he and Krista MacIntyre arrived together uninvited. Tara Bellavance said she asked MacIntyre if she was still working at the coffee shop.

“She said, ‘Yes.’ Then he butted in and said, ‘Just till I burn the [expletive] place down,’” Tara Bellavance told the jury.

Tara Bellavance said that she was sure of the date because her grandmother died on June 1 and she was arrested for driving after suspension on June 2.

“I woke up the next day in jail seeing the [coffee] shop on fire on the news,” Tara Bellavance testified. “I felt then that I could have stopped that if I’d have said something.”

Dean Drisko of Vassalboro testified before Tara Bellavance took the stand that he also was a guest at her cookout. He said that Raymond Bellavance and MacIntyre arrived separately about five minutes apart.

Drisko, who said he could not remember the exact date of the barbecue, testified that Raymond Bellavance “was very agitated” when he arrived about five minutes after MacIntyre.

“She was telling Ray that she had to go to work,” Drisko told the jury. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about going to work because I’ll burn the [expletive] place down.’”

Under cross-examination, Tara Bellavance admitted that since the arson at the topless coffee shop, she has been involved in at least two other fire incidents. She testified to being a witness in the first and a victim in the second. Both occurred this year, according to previously published reports.

Tara Bellavance said she saw Andrew St. Amand of Randolph assault his then-girlfriend in April and threaten to burn down the apartment house they were living in.

“I got her out of the scene,” she told the jury Thursday. “She was slumped down, hiding in the back seat of my car. A few minutes later, we could see the house fully engulfed in flames from [a road] across the river.”

That house was owned by Dan Demeritt, former spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage.

Tara Bellavance told the jury Thursday that in July her then-boyfriend, Jason Hewitt of Wayne, knocked her out.

“I was awakened by someone kicking the bedroom door that was on fire,” she said. “He threw me over his shoulder and carried me out.”

Hewett’s father was trying to put out the fire, the woman said.

Both men, she said, had been convicted of domestic violence assault. When the defense attorney asked if either man had been charged with arson, Kelley objected and said those investigations were ongoing. Superior Court Justice Michaela sustained the objection.

Also on Thursday, Donald Crabtree, owner of the torched topless coffee shop, told the jury that he had sex at least three times with MacIntyre, a waitress at the establishment.

Crabtree, his twin daughters, their boyfriends and their 4-month-old sons were living in a section of the coffee shop that had once been a motel but had been renovated as living quarters.

Kelley told jurors Wednesday that Bellavance “had a lot of anger, a lot of jealousy” toward Crabtree, who now lives in Greenbush. Kelley said in his opening statement that the defendant didn’t like the fact that MacIntyre, his ex-girlfriend, was working at the shop and having sex with Crabtree.

Under cross-examination, Crabtree said that he had a conversation with Bellavance on March 9, 2009, but it ended with the two men shaking hands.

Crabtree testified that Bellavance had told him MacIntyre was working as a prostitute out of the coffee shop and that her clients were customers. The shop owner also said that the defendant expressed concern over MacIntyre’s drug use.

After Bellavance left, Crabtree told the jury, he had a criminal trespass warning issued to the defendant to keep him off the property.

Under cross-examination Thursday, Tara Bellavance admitted that she had been paid $50 by MacIntyre for “callouts” after reviewing a transcript of a recorded interview with a fire investigator. Tara Bellavance was not specific about what “callouts” meant.

Crabtree also told jurors under direct examination that he had fired and rehired MacIntyre several times. He testified that she told him the job kept her off drugs and from hanging around with people who were a bad influence on her.

Crabtree also testified that no people had directly threatened him or told him they did not like having the topless coffee shop in town on Route 3. The shop owner said that the fire apparently broke out less than four hours after he had returned from a town meeting at which there was no opposition to his plan to expand his hours into the evening and operate a strip club in the former bar.

He disagreed with the timeline provided by other witnesses. Crabtree said he was awakened by his daughter and a member of a passing ambulance crew about 12:15 a.m. the night of the fire, not 45 minutes later than that.

Robert Richards and Shirley Rogers, both volunteer emergency medical technicians for Belfast, testified Wednesday that they were on their way home shortly before 1 a.m. June 3, 2009, when Richards noticed an odd glow behind a building on Route 3 as they drove by the coffee shop. The two had taken a patient from Belfast to Portland earlier.

Richards, who was driving, turned the ambulance around and headed back toward Augusta to check out the glow. He and Rogers both said they saw flames shooting up the back of the building and in the grass.

Richards used the ambulance radio to report the blaze to a Waldo County dispatcher, who alerted local agencies.

When told by Kelley that a call went out to the Vassalboro Fire Department at 1:13 a.m., Crabtree said he did not think that was right.

Crabtree said Thursday that Richards was on the scene for only six or eight minutes. The shop owner testified that it took an hour and a half for the first firetruck to arrive.

“I don’t believe they called 911 until they were back in Belfast,” he said. “I should have dialed it myself.”

Crabtree appeared to have problems Thursday recalling what he had told investigators. Throughout his testimony, both the prosecutor and defense attorney handed him printed transcripts of taped interviews to refresh his memory.

“I don’t recall much of what I said June 3 after I stood in the parking lot all night long watching my place burn,” he said. “I was wondering where my kids and grandkids were going to live.”

The first witness Thursday was Jennifer Sabean, a DNA analyst with the Maine State Crime Laboratory in Warren. She testified that she tested swabs from each side of the gas can found by firefighters at the scene. She did not find the defendant’s DNA on a swab, Sabean told the jury.

Sabean testified that the only person whose DNA she could not eliminate belonged to Kenneth MacMaster of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. She said DNA that might have come from the investigator was in a mixed sample of DNA found on a swab of the bottom of the can. Because the sample included DNA from more than one person, Sabean testified that she could not conclude from whom it came.

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday morning. The jury is not expected to begin deliberating until late next week.

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