The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

August 13, 2012

Ex-firefighters admit arsons

DANVILLE — Two former Potts Grove firefighters pleaded guilty Monday to torching a barn, two vacant homes and a field under plea agreements that will keep them in state prison for decades.

Zane Patrick Snyder, 19, of 948 Sodom Road, Milton, faces a maximum sentence of 52 years and $135,000 in fines. In Pennsylvania, defendants typically serve half of the maximum. Snyder’s co-defendent, Charles William Jacobs, 35, of 118 N. Fifth St., Lewisburg, agreed to a plea deal with a 66-year maximum sentence and $145,00 in fines.

Snyder received a better deal because “he was the first to come forward to police and implicated Mr. Jacobs,” Montour County District Attorney Rebecca Warren said following the pleas Monday.

Each pleaded guilty to several arson counts and conspiracy to commit arson, risking a catastrophe, recklessly endangering others and making false reports.

Other charges, including burglary, will be dismissed.

When they were arrested, the two admitted setting a series of seven fires in Montour County and to three in Northumberland County.

The former Potts Grove Fire Company members will be sentenced later.

Arson and risking a catastrophe charges relate to a Jan. 12 fire at a barn at 255 Potts Grove Road in Liberty Township, where they set hay on fire, and livestock was in the barn at the time, Another arson charge relates to a house fire at 215 Kelly’s Dam Road in Liberty Township. A third arson offense relates to a March 16 fire in an unoccupied home on Smith Road, where they filled a Diet Pepsi bottle with gasoline, stuffed in newspapers and tossed it on the porch. They also pleaded guilty to using a lighter to set five acres on fire in Liberty Township. Jacobs disputed that, saying only one acre was set ablaze.

Snyder, represented by attorney Michael Dennehy, and Jacobs, represented by attorney Leslie Bryden, have been in the Montour County Jail since they were charged earlier this year.

On hand for the pleas were Liberty Township Fire Chief Larry Brown and Wayne Bieber of the Potts Grove company. Bieber said they were there “just to observe.”

Also attending were Scott Clewell, of East Chillisquaque Township, Northumberland County, and his family. Clewell said the two are charged with torching the family’s large bank barn and an accessory structure. Damage was estimated in excess of $250,000 in the fire set by flares. He said insurance covered part of the loss.

“I’d like to see justice — a long sentence,” Clewell said.

Clewell said their farm lies on 170 acres along Creek Road, near Potts Grove. The farm has been in the family for six generations. Investigators said Snyder and Jacobs used flares from the fire company to set some of the blazes.

When he filed charges against the two, now retired state police fire marshal Norman Fedder said they cast suspicion on themselves by consistently showing up at the Potts Grove fire station just as fire alarms were sounding. He said they were seen at the fire company when pagers and alarms were still ringing, and they lived some distance from the fire station.

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