AUGUSTA — Raymond Bellavance Jr.’s estranged wife testified Thursday she was one of the first people to tell police that Bellavance had threatened to burn down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop.

Tara Michaud Bellavance said Thursday she woke up in jail on June 3, 2009, and heard news reports saying the business, which had operated in a former motel on Route 3 in Vassalboro, had been destroyed by fire. She had been jailed on a charge of driving after license suspension.

Her testimony came on the second day of the jury trial of Raymond Bellavance, 50, of Winthrop, who is charged with two counts of arson in the June 3, 2009, fire that leveled the business.

Tara Bellavance said she phoned police as soon as she was released to report the threat Bellavance made when he and his girlfriend, Krista MacIntyre, came to her West Gardiner home a day or two previously.

She said she was hosting a barbecue and Raymond Bellavance and MacIntyre came to her home.

Tara Bellavance testified she remembers asking MacIntyre whether she still worked as a waitress at the topless coffee shop.

She said that MacIntyre said yes but then Raymond Bellavance “butted in ’cause he didn’t like my question to her and said ‘until I burn the (expletive) place down.’ “

Tara Bellavance said she didn’t take her husband’s comment seriously, but “I wish I had.”

The next night, Maine State Trooper Chris Rogers arrested her on a charge of operating after suspension.

“I had to spend a night in jail and woke up to the (topless) shop being on fire on the news and the realization I probably could have stopped it if I had just said something,” she testified.

She said she volunteered to talk with the state fire investigator Kenneth MacMaster and had also cooperated in the past with Kennebec Sheriff’s Office Detective Al Morin on fire and drug cases. Since the Grand View fire, she has reported two other cases of arson, she said.

Tara Bellavance was asked to point out Raymond Bellavance to the jury on Thursday; however, she said she couldn’t see him from across the room and without her glasses on.

He stood up from the defense table and waved a hand at her.

“He was very abusive,” Tara Bellavance told jurors. “I loved him to death. He beat me daily.”

Responding to questions from Andrews Campbell, Bellavance’s defense attorney, Tara Bellavance said she had told investigators she couldn’t believe MacIntyre hugged and kissed her the day they visited.

Tara Bellavance also admitted telling investigators she previously arranged “call-outs” for prostitution for MacIntrye, for which Tara Bellavance received $50 and once $200.

She broke down in tears as she testified, saying, “I definitely didn’t want to come in here and be painted as a bad person,” she said.

In proceedings without the jury, Justice Michaela Murphy cautioned attorneys against allowing too much testimony about Raymond Bellavance’s background.

“I don’t want this to be a cataloging of all her grievances against her estranged husband,” the judge said.

Sexual relationships

Earlier Thursday, Donald Crabtree, owner of the coffee shop, took the witness stand and told Deputy District Attorney Alan Kelley that he had no physical relationship with MacIntyre, whom he hired two days after the business opened.

When Kelley asked, “Did you have sex with Krista?” Crabtree replied, “Yes, maybe up to three times.”

Crabtree said he fired and rehired MacIntyre several times, including the week of the fire, and provided $250 to add to the $1,000 downpayment she had saved to purchase a car.

Crabtree testified he had told a state fire investigator two days after the fire that Raymond Bellavance might have been in a white pickup truck that had been backing up and down in the driveway and cruising by the business frequently.

Crabtree said he didn’t want trouble at the coffee shop and had called police on March 9, 2009, because he heard Bellavance was coming to ask about MacIntyre. The shop’s policy banned boyfriends from being there while their girlfriends were working, he said.

Crabtree testified that was the only time he talked to Bellavance, and he provided that incident in response to investigator MacMaster’s question about whether any unusual incidents occurred at the business prior to the blaze.

Kennebec Sheriff’s Office Cpl. George Neagle III testified Thursday he talked to Bellavance by phone that day and issued him a criminal trespass warning from Crabtree.

Neagle said Bellavance admitted to being at the coffee shop and said he was “pissed off” because MacIntyre worked there and he claimed she was doing drugs and charging for sex there as well.

“He said if she was going to work there, he was done with her,” Neagle testified.

Crabtree also reported an incident with Jason Lunt just days before the fire when he threatened to smash the cell phone of a customer who used it to photograph MacIntyre.

Crabtree said he intervened to get the customer to delete the photo from his phone.

Crabtree described Lunt as “a customer up two times a day from the day we opened ’til the day we burned.” He said later he concluded Lunt was in a relationship with MacIntyre.

‘I don’t recall much’

Crabtree and six other people escaped the fire after being alerted by an ambulance driver who had spotted the glow of fire as he was passing the former motel along Route 3.

The night before the fire, Crabtree was at a Vassalboro Planning Board meeting seeking to expand business hours, to have employee parking in the back and to operate his business more like a strip club.

MacIntyre was to go to the meeting and spend the night with him. However, she did not go. Crabtree said he got home at 9:05 p.m. and went straight to bed with a bad toothache.

Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney referred Crabtree to typed transcripts of several of his interviews with investigators in order to refresh his memory. Under questioning, Crabtree often responded that he could not remember details of interviews and incidents.

Crabtree, who lost his home and that of his daughters and grandsons in that blaze, testified that he doesn’t recall much of what he said June 3 “after I stood in the parking lot all night long watching my place burn.”

Crabtree said he had a garage full of older fire extinguishers, and new ones throughout the building, but was advised against using them by the ambulance driver who said the fire department had been called.

“I looked the situation over real quick, and I told him, ‘Somebody set this place on fire.'” Crabtree testified. On the stand, Crabtree said it seemed the department took a “very, very long time” to respond.

Crabtree, who had no insurance on the building, rebuilt and reopened the business after the fire, but closed it in September.

The trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. Monday. The prosecutor told the judge that the next witness would be Lunt.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

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