Woman faces arson charge in house fire near Ranchos de Taos
TAOS — Investigators believe a fire that burned through a house Saturday near Ranchos de Taos was intentionally set by the home’s prior owner.
Patricia A. Gootgeld told a Taos County sheriff’s deputy that she intentionally set the blaze in an attempt to destroy the home, which she had lost in a foreclosure, according to Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe.
As the fire burned, a neighbor found Gootgeld, 59, outside the home, soaking wet and cold. She was transported first to Holy Cross Hospital in Taos and then to Albuquerque for mental health services, Hogrefe said.
A Taos Magistrate Court warrant charging Gootgeld with one count of arson, a second-degree felony, was issued Monday — the same day when new owners were set to close on the property.
Fire and law enforcement investigators found multiple places that had been ignited in rooms where Gootgeld’a papers, trash and other items were piled high.
Gootgeld had purchased the home for $230,000 in 2007, according to court documents, a year before the economy crashed in the Great Recession.
In an interview with The Taos News a couple of months ago, Gootgeld said she had lost money after the economic crash, became ill and fell behind on her house payments. Her last payments were around 2011, she said.
Bank of New York Mellon, which by then owned the note on the house, foreclosed on the property. A sheriff’s deputy served a final eviction notice to Gootgeld on Nov. 13.
“I was squeaking by on $200 a month,” Gootgeld had told the newspaper. “When I got the foreclosure notice, I thought, ‘This is it. I’m going to live in my car and die.’ Then I got the letter about the food stamps.”
Gootgeld had received a letter denying her food stamps because she was receiving Social Security disability benefits because of a medical condition.
She said she had been in and out of treatments for cancer, which meant long drives to either Santa Fe or Albuquerque. She had hoped to convince a court the bank was being unfair, but that didn’t happen.
A real estate agent tasked with selling Gootgeld’s house offered her money to get into another rental. Neighbors and Heart of Taos offered her hotel rooms. But she declined the aid. “I’d rather freeze to death in my car,” Gootgeld said. “It’s my house.”
She threatened to take her own life if she couldn’t live there.
Sometime in the past few weeks, Gootgeld apparently returned to the house and started living there again, and then the property sold at auction. Just ahead of the home sale’s closure, according to the Taos County Sheriff’s Office, she set it on fire.
Firefighters fought to save the 1,600-square-foot house Saturday, but by the time they were done, the roof had several large holes from where firefighters had to break through. The adobe walls didn’t burn, but they were blackened by smoke and soaked.
This story first appeared on the website of The Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.