MOUNT CARMEL — Misty Dunbar and Michelle Rhoads told a friend they wanted to assault a woman early Tuesday at her home but when they couldn’t get inside, police said they lit the house on fire and could have killed their target.
Borough police charged Dunbar, 23, of Elizabethville, and Rhoads, 23, of Mount Carmel, on Wednesday with 13 counts each including attempted murder and nine arson charges.
District Judge William Cole ordered both held without bail in Northumberland County Jail, Coal Township, pending preliminary hearings.
Patrolman Justin Stelma, Cpl. William Adamski and Chief Chris Buhay arrested the women one day after the fire at 434 and 432 N. Walnut St.
Video surveillance coupled with a witness’s account led police to identify Dunbar and Rhoads as suspects and charge them as defendants, according to arrest papers.
The witness, Angela Koreisl, contacted police about the fire to say she had been at the Sons of Poland with Dunbar and Rhoads into early Tuesday morning before the three all went to Koreisl’s home, according to arrest papers.
The defendants left the home with the intent to assault an acquaintance, Kelly Witmer, the girlfriend of the occupant of 434 N. Walnut St., Jason Dillow, arrest papers state.
When they returned to Koreisl’s home, they shared “life-changing” news, with Dunbar asking Koreisl, “didn’t you hear the sirens,” according to arrest papers.
The women told Koreisl they failed to light a tree on fire and then attempted to ignite grass and leaves before finding a can of kerosene under a porch, arrest papers state. The defendants doused a side porch in kerosene and used a lighter to set fire to the home, police said.
'They then took off'
Video surveillance captured after 5:23 a.m. from an unidentified neighbor’s property shows two women running from the scene and a flash consistent with a quick ignition fire, arrest papers state.
“They then took off when the fire began to become intense,” according to arrest papers. “Koresil stated that while speaking with Dunbar and Rhoads they advised that they could hear Kelly Witmer on the phone speaking to Jason Dillow while they were outside of Dillow’s house.”
Flames spread quickly to the exterior side and front of 434 N. Walnut St., working into an open window. Witmer, home alone, fled the home and called 911 just after 6 a.m.
A neighbor at 432 N. Walnut St., Ed Koblinski, was awake watching television when he heard people outside shouting for him to flee, too. He said he walked out front to see flames shooting from his neighbor’s home and spreading onto his own. He was also alone.
Dillow said he was at work and his two school-age sons were not at his home.
Police arrived to find Dillow’s father and neighbor, John, attempting to extinguish the blaze with a fire extinguisher. Firefighters arrived shortly afterward and mounted an exterior attack, beating back the flames and allowing firefighters to move inside and douse flames in the interior.
Fire Chief Jack Williams Jr. estimated the fire was out in under 90 minutes. He called Dillow’s property a total loss and figured the same could be said of Koblinski’s home.
Lisa Dillow, Jason’s ex-wife, attended Wednesday’s arraignment at Mount Carmel district court and recounted how Witmer said the defendants, Dunbar and Rhoads, hugged and consoled her while the fire burned. She said they showed no regard for human life.
“You set the house on fire that my sons sleep in,” Lisa Dillow said. “To do it so sneakily to sit on top of the hill and watch the house burn.”
“Both of them gave me a hug after it was all said and done,” Witmer added.
Police: one denied, one confessed
Stelma and Adamski picked up Rhoads at her home at 419 S. Hickory St. earlier on Wednesday. They escorted her to the police department and conducted an interview.
Rhoads denied having any knowledge about the fire and said she hadn’t spoken to anyone since leaving the social club alone after last call, according to arrest papers. Rhoads told police she just happened to bump into Dunbar and Koreisl as they walked separately to the fire scene, arrest papers state.
Police later located Dunbar and she agreed to be interviewed at the station, arrest papers state. Online docket information shows Dunbar, identified in arrest papers as a Dauphin County resident, had been evicted from a borough rental property earlier this year.
According to police, Dunbar confessed to lighting the fire while Rhoads served as a lookout, citing the use of kerosene.
A blue can of kerosene was found in the fire debris by Mount Carmel Township Police Chief Brian Hollenbush, arrest papers state.
“The fire had completely engulfed the residence to the point that had Witmer not been woken up from smelling the smoke, she would have perished in the fire,” Stelma wrote in a criminal affidavit.
The complete charges filed against Dunbar and Rhoads are as follows: criminal attempt-murder, criminal conspiracy-arson, eight other arson counts, criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, loitering and prowling at night.
The after-hours arraignment began about 7:30 p.m. and followed shortly thereafter with a proclamation from Buhay to Cole: Dunbar wasn’t cooperating.
“Ms. Dunbar is refusing to come out. Would you like her to be brought out?” Buhay asked.
There was inaudible chatter from the holding cell next to Cole’s courtroom. Buhay walked inside and could be heard saying, “It doesn’t work that way.”
Dunbar emerged without assistance moments later. She stood and said, “This is as far as I’m going, dude,” before obliging a motion from a police officer to sit in a chair. She sat slumped through the duration of the proceeding, saying next to nothing besides acknowledging Cole’s routine questioning as to whether she understood the charges.
“Uh-huh,” Dunbar replied.
Rhoads was arraigned separately and also was silent during her proceeding. She, too, acknowledged that she understood the charges.
The two are scheduled to appear at Cole’s courtroom for preliminary hearings beginning at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21.