Claremont man pleads guilty in diner fire

By JOHN P. GREGG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-23-2021 9:39 PM

NEWPORT, N.H. — A 59-year-old Claremont man this week pleaded guilty to setting fire to the Daddypops Tumble Inn Diner in July.

Leo J. Leblanc was sentenced to 3-to-6-years in state prison, though he could see a year shaved from his sentence for the arson count if he successfully completes substance abuse counseling in prison, according to documents in Sullivan Superior Court in Newport.

In exchange, prosecutors dropped an attempted arson count. Leblanc will also get credit for about 120 days time served.

Police had said that Leblanc kicked out the bottom window of the diner near Opera House Square in Claremont around 9 p.m. on July 29, poured gasoline on or around the building and caused a fire or explosion. Court documents said he had a grudge against a cook at the diner, which was not open at the time of the fire.

Leblanc’s estranged wife had contacted authorities shortly after the diner fire and told them she suspected Leblanc may have set the blaze, according to an affidavit from Claremont Det. Joshua Peavey.

Leblanc did not make a statement during sentencing, and his public defender, Jay Buckey, declined to comment.

Firefighters were able to get the fire under control in about 15 minutes, but the fire caused smoke and electrical damage.

The diner, which was built in 1941 by the Worcester Lunch Car Co., remains closed, and its owner died this fall, authorities said.

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Elyse Crossman, the executive director of the Greater Claremont Chamber of Commerce, said patrons are hoping it reopens.

“For a long-standing landmark in the center of the town, it’s certainly missed by both residents and visitors to the community, so I think everyone hopes to see it reopen.”

The diner has been a regular campaign stop during the New Hampshire presidential primary.

John Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com or 603-727-3217.

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