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A ghostly tale

Published October 29. 2009 05:00PM

A district judge couldn't be convinced that a ghost started a dwelling fire in Penn Forest Township on Feb. 27.

As a result, he ordered that the owner of the house, Joe Mesa, 61, who currently lives in Lehighton, must now face the charges in Carbon County Court.

Mesa, who appeared at his preliminary hearing before District Judge Edward Lewis of Jim Thorpe, told investigators that a ghost who lives in the basement of the structure set the home ablaze.

Mesa is facing two counts of arson as a result of a fire which destroyed his house and car at 12 Cub Lane, at about 3:30 a.m. on Feb. 27.

Mesa didn't testify during the hearing.

All the evidence was presented by two state police fire marshals and an insurance investigator. His lawyer, Public Defender Steve Vlossak, asked Judge Lewis to dismiss the charges because all evidence was circumstantial.

Lewis declined the request, stating that according to testimony Mesa did at one point tell a fire marshal that he set the fires.

According to the chief investigator, State Police Fire Marshal David Klitsch, Mesa changed his story several times, explaining that he couldn't admit he started the blaze because his granddaughter is a volunteer firefighter.

Mesa also allegedly told Klitsch that if he was arrested, "an innocent man would go to prison."

Klitsch testified that the house was in foreclosure at the time of the blaze. Living in it at the time were Mesa and his wife.

According to testimony by Klitsch, there were three points of origin for the fire. The fire was set at two locations inside the ranch-style dwelling, as well as inside Mesa's car, which was parked in the driveway in front of the house.

He said those three points of origin were never connected by the flames.

The car, a 2000 Pontiac Grand Am, was completely destroyed by the fire. In the house, most of the damage occurred to a bedroom and kitchen.

Initially, Klitsch said Mesa told him he and his wife were in the master bedroom and were awakened by a smoke alarm.

Klitsch testified that three months later, on May 8, he spoke with Mesa on the telephone. Mesa "had something to tell me but he didn't want me to think that he was nuts," the trooper testified.

He then told Klitsch that a ghost is residing in the basement.

In a later interview, Klitsch was informed by the defendant, according to testimony, that the ghost is an older gentleman, about six-feet tall, and wore jeans. The ghost was living there since the Mesas moved into the home, Klitsch was told by Mesa.

The fire marshal said a basement fire had occurred at the Mesa home about a year earlier. Klitsch said Mesa told him the ghost might have been responsible for that fire, too.

Klitsch said that at one point, Mesa wanted to check with his priest to see if ghosts could start fires.

Klitsch said that when he told Mesa that he (Klitsch) was "pretty certain that (Mesa) was the one who started the fires," Mesa agreed, then said he couldn't make such an admission because of his granddaughter being a firefighter.

Cpl. Shawn Hilbert of the state police in Hazleton, a deputy fire marshal, investigated the car fire and determined that it was deliberately set inside the passenger area of the vehicle.

Michael Mariano of Pennsburg, a special claims representative for Nationwide Insurance, said that the insurance firm had received two claims from Mesa, one for the house and one for the car.

So far, said Mariano, Nationwide has paid $22,500 toward the damages including $5,500 for contents of the home, $11,500 for additional living expenses, and $5,500 for emergency services.

"The testimony here is circumstantial," attorney Vlossak argued.

The prosecutor is Assistant District Attorney James Lavelle.

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