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Custodian tossed lit cigarette, charged in fire that destroyed New Jersey school: authorities

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NEW JERSEY (PIX11) — A fire that destroyed a New Jersey elementary school was caused by a custodian who tossed his unfinished lit cigarette inside inside a trash can, authorities said.

Authorities said Jerome C. Higgins, 48, of East Brunswick, was charged with a petty disorderly persons offense for lighting up inside James Monroe Elementary School in Edison, according to Middlesex County Acting Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey and Chief Thomas J. Bryan of the Edison Police Department.

Jerome Higgins

“I’m sorry, I just can’t believe this, my heart goes out to the children,” said Higgins, whose cigarette sparked the fire, authorities said.

Higgins was issued the summons for breaking a  statute that bans “smoking and/or carrying lighted tobacco materials.”

I’m sorry I just can’t believe this, my heart goes to the children,” Higgins said.  “As long as nobody was hurt, that’s God’s grace.”

school fire

The fire consumed James Monroe Elementary School Saturday night. (Christine Latkovich)

The fire broke out just at about 7:45 p.m. Saturday, and began in the custodian’s office, authorities said.
Dozens of firefighters battled the blaze for about three hours before it was brought under control. About a dozen firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation, but no residents were injured.
Officials say roughly 500 kindergarten through fifth-grade students attended the single-story school, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.