Man ordered to court for fire that killed wife, injured children

Lancaster
Carlos-Montalvo-Rivera

Carlos-Montalvo-Rivera

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) – A Lancaster man accused of dousing his wife with gasoline and setting her on fire, then leaving their three children in the burning home, is headed to trial on homicide and arson charges.

Carlos Montalvo-Rivera, 52, was ordered to face all charges in Lancaster County Court after a preliminary hearing on Friday.

His wife, Olga Sanchez, was found dead in a second-floor bedroom after authorities say Montalvo-Rivera deliberately set fire to the family’s home at 14 North Plum Street on December 6, 2010.

His three children with Sanchez – ages 8, 9, and 13 – were at home when the fire was set but managed to escape. The oldest rushed his sisters to an attic and neighbors eventually rescued them from the roof.

The 9-year-old girl sustained severe burns to her arms while holding onto a window ledge that was in flames. The 8-year-old girl fell from the roof, fracturing her arm.

Montalvo-Rivera additionally faces three counts each of attempted homicide and aggravated, plus a felony count of causing or risking a catastrophe.

Misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of children were withdrawn before the hearing, due to statute of limitations.

A formal arraignment is scheduled for Feb. 28.

Authorities say Montalvo-Rivera gave numerous conflicting stories about the fatal fire. He initially told investigators he was sleeping and awoke to his wife arguing with someone. He said he was then hit on the side of the head and was knocked out for about 45 minutes.

When he regained consciousness, he said his hands were tied behind his back and the master bedroom was filled with smoke, but he was able to jump from a second-floor window to escape.

A neighbor told police he helped Montalvo-Rivera attempt to climb into a second-floor window as the home was burning. When the neighbor saw him about a minute later, he said Montalvo-Rivera’s hands were tied behind his back with shoelaces that were not there earlier.

Montalvo-Rivera twice told police he was able to free himself from the bindings while still in the home, yet a witness reported that several neighbors had attempted to remove the laces and finally used scissors to cut Montalvo-Rivera free.

Montalvo-Rivera changed his story in follow-up police interviews, claiming he had jumped from the window while his hands were tied. He later claimed his hands may have been bound in front of him, authorities said.

Montalvo-Rivera told investigators he and his wife were happily married and did not argue. Police said the investigation revealed he had moved out of the house about a month before the fire, and a witness had heard him tell his wife he would “kill her like a dog,” police said in the criminal complaint.

Photographs taken by firefighters showed that the window Montalvo-Rivera claimed to have used for his escape was closed. Investigators said the newer window would have stayed open until manually closed.

In September 2019, authorities interviewed a neurologist who related that someone who had sustained a blow knocking them out for 45 minutes would have suffered a severe traumatic brain injury.

A paramedic at the fire told police that Montalvo-Rivera did not appear to be injured, and the doctor who treated him at the emergency room said he displayed no symptoms of having a brain injury.

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