Investigators: Jefferson County Man Admits to Starting House Fire With Lighter & Gasoline

WINSLOW TWP., Pa. (EYT) – A Jefferson County man is facing arson and related charges after an investigation was conducted at a residence on Route 322 in Winslow Township.

According to court documents, Ridgway-based State Police filed the following criminal charges against 30-year-old Samuel Dewy Jerrell, of Sykesville, on Thursday, May 16:

– Arson-Danger Of Death Or Bodily Injury, Felony 1
– Arson-Intent Destroy Unoccupied Building, Felony 2
– Arson Endangering Property-Reckless Endangerment of Inhabited Buildings, Felony 2
– Criminal Mischief/Damage Property Intent, Reckless, Or Negligent, Felony 3
– Recklessly Endangering Another Person, Misdemeanor 2
– Dangerous Burning, Summary

According to a criminal complaint, around 2:53 p.m. on May 13, the Reynoldsville Fire Department was dispatched for a building fire at 6433 Route 322 in Winslow Township, Jefferson County. Flames were observed along the exterior of a two-story wood frame residential building. Chief Darren Scolese reported the home was engulfed at the time of the fire department’s arrival.

Chief Scolese contacted the state police and reported that Samuel Jerrell had informed him he was smoking a cigarette while carrying a gas can and said he tripped inside the basement exterior door and spilled the gasoline and his cigarette then ignited the fumes, the complaint states.

Corporal Agosti, a certified fire investigator with the Ridgway-based State Police, met with Samuel Jerrell at the scene on May 15.

According to the complaint, Jerrell told Corporal Agosti that he was gathering items in the basement for disposal and planned to burn the items outside in a fire pit. He stated that he located a fuel can containing what he believed was gasoline and was smoking a cigarette and carrying the can to an exterior basement door when he spilled some of the gas while trying to unlatch the door. Jerrell reported his cigarette then fell out of his mouth and ignited the spilled gasoline, and he was then unable to exit through the basement, so he ran up the interior stairs, where he fell and injured his neck.

The complaint notes the Corporal Agosti told Jerrell his statement was scientifically impossible, as thousands of laboratory tests have been conducted and documented regarding cigarettes and gasoline, noting that a lit cigarette is not a competent ignition source for gasoline vapors. Jerrell was read a Miranda Warning and detained at the scene.

Trooper Wolff then arrived at the scene to assist with the investigation.

As Corporal Agosti was walking with Jerrell to Wolfe’s police vehicle, Jerrell allegedly explained that “he intentionally lit a fire in the basement using a lighter and gasoline. He advised he lit a blanket or coat on fire near the basement exterior exit. He said it went up very fast. He also advised that he smashed a mirror in the home prior to setting the fire. He attempted to cut his throat with the glass but was unsuccessful. He then tried to stab himself in the neck with the glass but was unable to significantly harm himself that way. He then decided to set the house on fire to ‘go to Heaven,'” according to the complaint.

A laceration and puncture wound were visible on Jerrell’s neck, the complaint indicates.

According to the complaint, Corporal Agosti examined the scene and found the fire damage consistent with an intentionally set fire. The physical evidence supported the statement made by Jerrell. In addition, assistance was requested for an accelerant detection K9 from the Allegheny County Fire Marshal’s office. The K9 alerted multiple times inside the home.

Charges were filed in Magisterial District Judge David B. Inzana’s office on May 16.

A preliminary hearing date has not yet been set.

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