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Police Use Raids To Find Witnesses

February 20, 2000

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Frustrated by an investigation grown cold, authorities used a raid on underage drinking at a popular bar to round up potential witnesses to a deadly dorm fire at Seton Hall University, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Sunday.

Nearly a dozen of the students arrested during the raid at the New Hall Tavern just before 1:30 a.m. Friday were given subpoenas to testify Tuesday before a grand jury looking into the fire, the newspaper said. Investigators had expected the group to be at the bar.

The Jan. 19 blaze killed three freshmen and injured 62 people. Law enforcement sources, whom the newspaper did not identify, said their investigation has been hampered because some students have been withholding information.

According to the newspaper, investigators believe the fire was deliberately set and they are focusing on three freshmen. All three were in the bar early Friday, and at least one was given a subpoena, the paper said.

``I’m not going to confirm or deny anything regarding grand jury subpoenas,″ Charlotte Smith, executive assistant prosecutor for Essex County, said Sunday. She refused to ``discuss or make any comment on the fire investigation.″

The three freshmen have been interviewed once but have since retained lawyers and have refused to give investigators further interviews, the paper said.

Grand jury witnesses must answer questions without their lawyers present, although they can decline to make statements incriminating themselves.

Officers charged 37 people in the tavern with underage drinking. The bar’s owner, John Holland, 56, of Cedar Grove was charged with serving minors, possessing an unregistered handgun and other offenses.

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