ELKHART — Police say an Elkhart man intentionally set fire to his home, with his son inside, after they argued Friday over $300 that came up missing.
Manuel Buitendorp, 58, was arrested after trying to fight off police and fire personnel, who pulled him out of the burning house at 1821 Belmont Ave. His son was injured while escaping out of a second-floor window onto the roof, with a dog.
It took crews about 40 minutes to extinguish the fire, which started shortly after 2 p.m., but the house was determined to be a total loss.
Buitendorp was charged with arson resulting in injury, a Level 3 felony, and obstructing a firefighter and resisting law enforcement, both misdemeanors. He was booked in the Elkhart County Correctional Facility on $50,000 bond.
His initial court hearing is set for Friday. His charges together carry a punishment of up to 18 years in prison.
According to court documents:
A neighbor called 911 to report the house fire. Firefighters arrived and found Buitendorp trying to re-enter the house, and had to go inside and physically pull him away.
An Elkhart Police officer saw firefighters and Buitendorp in a physical altercation on the back porch. The officer eventually put handcuffs on a screaming and struggling Buitendorp.
He took Buitendorp to his cruiser but he refused to sit in the back, so the officer used a knee strike to the leg to try to force him to have a seat. Buitendorp turned his body and was kneed in the groin instead.
He was transported to Elkhart General Hospital and then to the police station.
Buitendorp’s son told police that they were both in the home that afternoon and an argument broke out over $300 that Buitendorp misplaced. Buitendorp went out to smoke a cigarette, and when he came back, he was carrying an eight-gallon can of gasoline taken from the shed in the backyard.
Buitendorp poured the gas throughout the kitchen and living room on the first floor, according to his son. The son managed to grab the can from him, but Buitendorp used a lighter to ignite the gas.
The son ran up a nearby staircase to the second floor and became trapped upstairs by the fire while his father was still downstairs. The son said he grabbed his dog then broke an upstairs window and climbed onto the roof.
He stood there for a moment before jumping down to the ground. His hands and stomach were lacerated by glass, requiring stitches from paramedics.
The neighbor told the investigating officer that he looked outside when he heard glass breaking and saw the son standing on the roof with the dog, screaming for him to call 911. He also saw Buitendorp outside screaming and trying to kick in the front door.
The neighbor said he told Buitendorp not to open the door because the rush of air would make the fire worse.
The fire destroyed the main level of the residence, sending flames shooting out of the upstairs window, and likely destroyed the entire house, according to the investigating officer. No firefighters were reported injured in the incident, though the officer experienced breathing difficulty due to the smoke.