Arrests Made in Western Pennsylvania Arson Spree

By Dan Nephin | October 29, 2009

Eight people have been arrested for more than a third of the 34 fires police say were intentionally set in the last two years in New Castle in western Pennsylvania.

“Hopefully, we can rest a little easier now, however our job isn’t completed,” New Castle Police Chief Thomas Sansone said at a news conference to announce the Tuesday arrests, which included two juveniles. “We need people to call if they see or hear anything.”

The police said they expect to make more arrests.

The city of about 24,400 has had 34 arsons between June 2007 and late summer of this year; the eight defendants are accused of a dozen arsons.

Sansone said the suspects know each other, but didn’t set the fires as a group. He said two or three people at a time started the fires. Most of the buildings were vacant.

The chief was not able to offer a motive, though copper pipes were stolen from some buildings. Two fires were retaliatory, according to the criminal complaints. “Thankfully, we don’t have to prove any particular kind of motive at this time,” he said.

According to the complaints, one defendant set fire to a minivan in retaliation for a confrontation with the van owner; another set fire to a garage out of anger because he had been caught storing stolen all-terrain vehicles there.

The police chief said the fires were set by various means. In one instance, magazines were placed in a wicker basket and set ablaze. In another, furniture was doused with gasoline.

Sansone didn’t have an estimate on the damage, but said the crimes taxed both the police and fire departments. It cost the city about $4,000 to demolish each building.

A significant break came in the investigation when a resident called 911 after hearing breaking glass in a vacant building about two months ago. Police found three suspects when they arrived, although no fire was set.

Arrested Tuesday were Ruben James Suarez, 23; Steven Sheridan, 22; Mark A. Quear, 20; Stephen Threats, 20; Rachelle Marie Lombardo, 24; Darrell Rice Jr., 20; and two juveniles. All are from New Castle, about 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The charges included arson, burglary, and conspiracy.

One juvenile is 19, but was 17 at the time of the fire he allegedly set. The six adults were being held in the Lawrence County jail. It was not immediately known if they had attorneys.

Fire Chief Thomas Maciarello said the city has had more than 50 fires, but that total includes some fires that rekindled.

“We fight fires every day, and with someone just setting on wanton destruction, we’re pretty happy (with the arrests),” Maciarello said.

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