The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 30, 2013

Boot print leads to Shamokin arson arrest

By Ashley Wislock
The Daily Item

— SHAMOKIN - A boot print helped lead police to an arrest after a fire Monday night, the third in the city since Thursday.

James Neidlinger Jr., 21, of East Dewart Street, Shamokin, was arraigned Tuesday on seven felony counts, including arson and risking catastrophe, as well as one misdemeanor count of criminal trespass, according to court documents.

Neidlinger was committed to the Northumberland County Prison in lieu of $200,000 bail.

A Shamokin police officer spotted a fresh boot print while examining the area around the fire Monday night in the 600 block of Sunbury Street, said Shamokin Police Chief Edward Griffiths. The officer then spotted Neidlinger wearing boots while standing behind the building with a group of friends.

Neidlinger said he had witnessed someone running away from the structure after the fire broke out and agreed to be questioned further at the police station, said fire investigations officer Ray Siko.

“On the walk there, he initiated several conversations and provided in detail facts about the fire which (raised suspicion),” Siko said.

At the station, Neidlinger described the man he claimed to have seen running from the building, but the description seemed familiar, Siko said.

“He provided his own characteristics to us,” Siko said. “The only thing he changed was the eye color. He said the guy’s eyes were blue and his are brown.”

The boot print found at the scene matched Neidlinger’s boots. When confronted with the similarities, Neidlinger confessed to starting the fire, Siko said.

“He was fighting with his girlfriend and was going for a walk, contemplating everything,” Siko said. “He thought about killing himself, but then changed his mind. ... He started becoming angry and upset thinking about the fight he and his girlfriend had.”

That’s when he came across the building at 604 E. Sunbury St. and started the blaze, Siko said. Siko and Griffiths declined to say how the fire started.

Neidlinger thought that by providing erroneous information to police, he would draw attention away from himself, Siko said.

Neidlinger expressed remorse for his actions and said he was thankful no one got hurt, Siko said.

Siko said Neidlinger has been questioned regarding other fires in abandoned buildings, but stopped short of calling him a suspect.

“Right now, it’s premature to say yes or no,” he said.

Shamokin police are still investigating the four other fires that have taken place in abandoned buildings since September, Siko said.

Thursday, two buildings within blocks of each other on North Shamokin Street were torched, while two other fires broke out in the 700 block of North Shamokin Street in the beginning of September.

City officials were urging owners to secure vacant buildings.