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Man pleads not guilty to charges in deadly Butch’s Bar fire

Anthony Gonzalez
Anthony Gonzalez(Door County Jail)
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 5:41 AM CDT
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DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - A man charged in a deadly bar fire in Sturgeon Bay has entered a not guilty plea to the charges against him.

Anthony Gonzalez, 58, appeared before a judge Tuesday for an arraignment hearing in the Butch’s Bar case.

In addition to the plea, the court set a trial date, but it was entered off the record. Counsel will need to check with potential witnesses to make sure the timing works for them to take the stand.

Gonzalez is charged with two counts of Second Degree Reckless Homicide, five counts of Second Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety, and one count of Negligent Handling of Burning Material. He could spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted.

The fire on February 22 killed two people. “Others who lived there and called Butch’s Bar home narrowly escaped further tragedy,” police said.

A criminal complaint obtained by Action 2 News details the events leading up to the fire and arrest of Gonzalez.

The fire started in the overnight hours at the building at 112 South 3rd Avenue. An officer who responded described hearing screams coming from the south side of the building and saw a man hanging out of a window on the upper level. Sturgeon Bay Fire rescued him by using an extension ladder. The man was taken to a Milwaukee area hospital for medical treatment for significant burns and smoke inhalation.

Gonzalez exited the building and made contact with officers.

“I spilled lighter fluid on my bed,” Gonzalez told them. He said he was in unit No. 3 and was filling a Zippo butane lighter when it “sprayed all over.”

“All of a sudden it all ignited,” Gonzalez said. “It was enough fluid to start a quarter of the bed on fire. I ran and grabbed a fire extinguisher, thought I blasted it out, but something else was burning, and it was too hot for me to stay in the room. I started pounding on all the doors to get people out.”

A Special Agent with the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation interviewed Gonzalez, who had lived above Butch’s Bar for about two years.

Gonzalez said that had picked up his girlfriend from work after midnight, dropped her off at her place, and then returned to his apartment at about 12:45 a.m. He described having some food and watching TV from his mattress. He said the mattress was “all cut up” to the point where springs were exposed. He had pieces of an egg-crate foam mattress topper on it.

Gonzalez said he fell asleep while watching TV and woke up and wanted a cigarette. He grabbed the closest lighter, a torch-type lighter. It was out of compressed butane fuel. While on the bed, he grabbed the can of fuel to fill it up. He said he couldn’t see very well so he did not line up the butane bottle with the lighter fluid and it sprayed. He said he got fuel on his hands and the corner of his mattress. The spilling and spraying lasted about 15-30 seconds.

Gonzalez continued to fill the lighter and put the fuel back on his table. He grabbed a cigarette and struck his lighter, but it did not ignite. He struck it a second time and his hands caught fire and the corner of the mattress caught fire. As he got up, the inside of the mattress caught fire.

Gonzalez said he used a pillow to try to put out the fire, but it didn’t work. He attempted to grab a fire extinguisher that from the wall. He thought he had the fire out, but then noticed smoke coming from the ceiling.

He pounded on another tenant’s door and Gonzalez told him his bed was on fire. Gonzalez and the tenant made more attempts to put out the fire, but it was too hot in the room. Gonzalez said he ran downstairs and told the owner that there was a fire upstairs. The owner told him to call 911. Gonzalez said he thought someone had already done that. Gonzalez left the building.

Gonzalez was asked if tenants were allowed to smoke in their rooms, Gonzalez said that everybody smoked up there and there had been fires before.

“You know I was just not coherent. I wasn’t using my head. I should have got up and did it that way, but I didn’t. I just was lazy and I did it right on the corner of my bed like an idiot,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez denied being under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.

Gonzalez is being held on a $250,000 bond.

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