AUGUSTA – The man charged with burning down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro in June 2009 pleaded not guilty Tuesday to two counts of arson.

Raymond J. Bellavance Jr., 49, of Augusta denied the charges during his arraignment Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court. He answered, “Not guilty, your honor,” when Justice Nancy Mills requested his plea.

Bellavance was arrested in early May in South Carolina on the arson charges.

Fire investigators allege that Bellavance was the sole person responsible for setting the coffee shop ablaze during the early hours of June 3, 2009, while owner Donald Crabtree and his family — including his daughters, their boyfriends and their two young children — slept inside apartments in the building. All seven people escaped after a passing ambulance crew noticed the blaze about 1 a.m. and woke them.

The coffee shop drew worldwide media attention after it opened on Route 3 in Vassalboro on Feb. 23, 2009. Crabtree has been rebuilding at the site and is operating the shop out of an office trailer on the property.

Mills ordered Bellavance’s bail to remain at $1 million worth of property or $200,000 cash and banned him from contact with Crabtree. On Tuesday, the judge told Bellavance’s attorney, J. Mitchell Flick, that bail could be reviewed at a later date.

Assistant District Attorney Steve Parker said Bellavance had an extensive criminal records dating to 1979 and had to be extradited from South Carolina on the current charges.  

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.