John De St. Croix is escorted into the courtroom at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor on May 8, 2018. De St. Croix is accused of killing two people in Bangor in March of 2018. Credit: Gabor Degre

Members of Bangor’s homeless community who spent time a year ago with John De St. Croix, the man accused of killing two people by setting a box truck ablaze, admitted Tuesday to drinking with him that night but denied setting the fire.

John De St. Croix, 26, of Bangor is accused of killing Michael Bridges, 43, who went by the nickname Georgia, and Desiree York, 36, who were sleeping in the back of a box truck the night of March 28, 2018. The truck was located at the Penobscot Plaza shopping center on Washington Street when De St. Croix allegedly set it on fire.

[Affidavit: Victims in Bangor truck blaze alive when fire set]

De St. Croix pleaded not guilty to one count each of intentional or knowing or depraved indifference murder, depraved indifference murder, arson and two counts of felony murder. His jury trial began Tuesday.

Eugene Cox, 33, currently a patient at Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor, testified Wednesday that he and Harry Seavey “hung out” with the victims and De St. Croix under the Penobscot Bridge the evening of the fire.

Cox said that after drinking some beer with others, he fell asleep, but was awakened by the smell of smoke.

“I woke up when I smelled something burning,” he told the jury of 11 women and three men, including three alternates. “I thought it was a railroad tie, which I’d smelled burning down there before. I looked around the corner [of the bridge pillar] and saw a tire on a truck burning. I heard someone banging from inside. I couldn’t get near it, it was so hot.”

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As Cox was walking away from the fire behind the plaza, he saw Bangor police Officer Jamie Fanning arrive. He testified that he told her that he’d heard banging coming from inside the truck.

Under cross-examination, Cox denied starting the fire and said he had been cooperative with police.

Seavey, 56, of Bangor testified that he saw De St. Croix, Bridges and York drinking together under the bridge. He decided to leave because of their drinking and arguing.
“John and Georgia were arguing, but I’m not sure for how long or about what,” he said. “John seemed to be madder. John said something to the effect, ‘I’ll take care of the problem’ or ‘I’ll take care of it.’ I went to Pickering Square and went to sleep on a bench.”

[Man accused of burning 2 people alive told dispatcher box truck was ‘up in a blaze’]

Seavey was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison in 1997 for being an armed career criminal after he admitted to robbing a Big Apple store at gunpoint in Belfast on July 4, 1996, and leading police on a high speed chase. He was released and began living in Bangor in 2014, according to testimony.

Two other men said Wednesday that they spent some time under the bridge that night with De St. Croix, Bridges and York but did not see who started the blaze. Both denied setting the fire.

Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Lisa Funte performed the autopsies on the victims. She testified that both died of smoke inhalation and suffered second- and third-degree burns over 30 to 40 percent of their bodies.

York’s blood alcohol level was 0.35 percent and Bridges’ was 0.29 percent, she said. The legal limit to operate a vehicle after consuming alcohol is .08 percent.

Investigators from the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office told jurors that they found burned cardboard in the area of the truck that they concluded was used to start the fire.

A dog trained to sniff out accelerants at fire scenes also alerted investigators to an accelerant on the ground near the truck.

It is expected to be identified Thursday when technicians from the Maine State Crime Laboratory are scheduled to testify.

The case could go to the jury as early as Thursday.

If convicted, De St. Croix faces 25 years to life in prison on the murder charges and up to 30 years in prison on the arson and felony murder charges.