SINGAPORE — After a woman 22 years his junior spurned him, an unemployed man set a fire in her condominium block in a bid to force her out of her unit. This resulted in the evacuation of 141 residents from 177 units.
Teo Shih Howe, now aged 42, then fled the scene. But when the police caught up with him at his Icon Residence condominium, Teo fled via his 17th storey unit's air conditioner ledge and climbed down four storeys.
His sudden flight prompted the Singapore Civil Defence Force to deploy a safety life air pack on the ground floor and a green net to prevent him from climbing further, before he was eventually persuaded to go back inside.
Teo is believed to be the same man whom Yahoo News Singapore reporters saw huddling on an air-conditioner ledge at Icon Residence on 7 August 2019. The Yahoo office is located at Mapletree Anson, near the condominium.
Teo was jailed for one-and-a-half years on Thursday (11 November) after he pleaded guilty to three counts of mischief by fire, with one count of trespass taken into consideration for his sentencing.
Teo first met the woman, a 20-year-old Chinese national surnamed Peng, in July 2019. He confessed to Peng that he liked her and viewed her as his girlfriend, but his feelings were not reciprocated.
On the evening of 6 August 2019, Teo called Peng to ask her out on Chinese Valentine’s Day, which fell on 14 August. She rejected him.
The following evening, Teo visited Peng’s workplace, a pub in Central Mall, and drank with her for about three hours. He was unhappy with her as she was going out with someone else on Chinese Valentine’s Day. After an argument, Teo left the pub.
After work, the woman returned to her unit at City Square Residences and Teo followed shortly after. While he knew which block the woman lived in, he did not know the exact unit. He was allowed access to the condominium compound at about 4.07am by pretending to flash a resident’s card.
He then loitered around the compound and asked the woman to go downstairs, but she did not reply to his texts and later hung up on his call.
Triggered smoke alarms
Teo took a lift to the 30th storey and made his way downstairs. He then decided to start a fire, so that the smoke detectors and alarm would be triggered, and he would be able to see the woman in the ensuing evacuation.
Teo went to the 24th floor and set fire to items located at the corridor, including four empty carton boxes, two umbrellas, three kick scooters, two baby strollers, and shoes. He then went to the 12th and 4th stories to set fire to discarded items at the respective refuse disposal points.
Teo called the police to report that “fire alarm activated” at 4.49am and 4.54am.
At about 5.05am, a newspaper deliveryman saw thick smoke at the 24th storey. He informed the security guards.
Teo later saw residents rushing to the ground floor. He left the condominium for his home at Icon Residence.
The police evacuated residents who were only allowed to return to their units hours later. The fires were extinguished by the SCDF and a resident with a dry powder fire extinguisher.
Police traced the man who had first reported the fire and identified him as Teo. They proceeded to Icon on the morning of 7 August 2019 and returned again at about 2.38pm as no one had answered the door. Some officers remained on the ground floor while others went to Teo’s unit.
In response, Teo used chairs to block the main door entrance and his room door. He took a haversack and climbed onto the air-conditioner ledge outside his 17th-floor unit and slid down one level.
The police officers on the ground floor noticed the movement and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) was activated. A safety life air pack was set up on the ground floor as a precautionary measure. Teo continued to climb down until he reached the unit on the 13th floor.
Yahoo reporters then observed Teo, dressed in a white tank top, a black cap and sunglasses, sitting on the air-conditioning ledge. At least one SCDF officer and several others were seen speaking to the man through the window of an adjacent unit.
Two SCDF officers were spotted preparing to rappel to the unit from two floors above. Other officers also prepared to deploy a rescue net in an attempt to rescue the man.
At around 5.20pm, the SCDF officers deployed a rescue net over the ledge. From inside the unit, a window was opened and the man appeared to voluntarily re-enter the apartment. He was arrested at about 5.24pm.
Teo's lawyers Diana Ngiam and Sunil Sudheesan said that their client made a "foolish and completely misguided decision" to set fire to the items as a "means to ‘coax’ (the woman) out of her house."
Teo had gone in search of Peng as he had left his credit card with her and saw an unauthorised $5,000 transaction. He had wanted to meet her to resolve the issue, the lawyers said.
Since then, Teo has been seeking career opportunities and has been working for a licensed Japanese Crypto Exchange company since May this year.
The management of the condominium incurred $37,110 for repairs, of which $10,600 was not covered by insurance. Teo has made restitution for this sum.
A tenant at the 24th storey also incurred $13,664.44 in damages. Teo paid him compensation of $3,361.90.
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