Son of attorney charged after fire at family home
ROCK FALLS – The son of a local attorney was in the Whiteside County Jail Friday after he set fire to the kitchen in the family home, police said.
Benjamin J. Pignatelli, 23, who was also suspected of setting a fire at the home more than 2 years ago, was arrested about 2 p.m. Friday after his release from CGH Medical Center.
The extent of his injuries or why he was taken to the hospital was not explained Friday.
He is charged with aggravated arson, punishable by 6 to 30 years in prison, and aggravated assault to a police officer, punishable by 1 to 3 years in prison.
Ben Pignatelli is the son of Rock Falls attorney Lou Pignatelli.
Lou Pignatelli declined to comment on Friday’s incident.
Just before 2 a.m., police were called to the home, 614 Louis Lane, after dispatchers received a 911 call. Police say the dispatcher could hear a man and a woman screaming before the call was dropped.
Rock Falls Police Officer Jarrett Ludwig and a sheriff’s deputy went to the home and found Lou Pignatelli, 66, in front of the house with cuts on an arm.
He was treated at the scene by CGH Medical Center emergency personnel. Rock Falls Police Chief Mike Kuelper said Pignatelli didn’t say how he got the cuts.
While tending to Pignatelli, officers noticed a fire in the kitchen and went into the house. Ben Pignatelli was found inside, according to police.
The officers tried to put out the fire with an extinguisher but were forced out by excessive smoke. Ludwig suffered minor smoke inhalation and was treated at CGH.
Rock Falls firefighters were able to quickly put out the fire, which caused minor damage.
Police say Ben Pignatelli refused to leave the home and ran into the basement, where a short standoff ensued.
At one point, Ben Pignatelli threw a garden tool at an officer but missed him, Kuelper said.
He surrendered to police 15 minutes later.
Kuelper said that while police don’t yet know how the fire started, Ben Pignatelli was the only person in the house at the time.
He was charged with aggravated arson because Ludwig was injured in the fire, Kuelper said.
The state fire marshal’s office is investigating the fire and how it started, spokeswoman Milly Santiago said.
On Dec. 29, 2009, firefighters were dispatched to the Pignatelli home after a fire broke out.
Firefighters said gasoline had been poured in an upstairs hallway stairwell and set ablaze, causing substantial damage.
Kuelper confirmed Friday that Ben Pignatelli was a suspect in that fire. Police turned over their findings to Whiteside County State’s Attorney Gary Spencer, he added.
Pignatelli was never charged in connection with the fire. Spencer could not be reached for comment Friday.
Lou Pignatelli said his son was living in Rockford and had been at his home since Thursday.
About the 2009 fire, he added, “The innocence of Ben was not an issue 2 years ago.”