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Summit Hill man goes on trial, charged with setting 16 fires

Published December 06. 2011 05:01PM

A Summit Hill man went on trial yesterday in Carbon County court charged with deliberately setting 16 brush fires in the Lower Towamensing Township area of the county in 2008.

Frank Duane Swartz, 45, is facing 60 felony counts including arson-danger of death or bodily injury; arson-endangering property-reckless endangerment of inhabited buildings; possession of explosive/incendiary materials; risking a catastrophe; and maliciously setting/causing fire to a forest. If convicted of the charges he facing a minimum prison term of about 20 years.

The jury panel was selected in the morning and testimony began about 2 p.m. before President Judge Roger N. Nanovic II. Only one witness was heard yesterday before Nanovic recessed about 4 p.m. The trial resumed at 9 a.m. today.

Assistant District Attorney James Lavelle told the panel he expected to call about 15 witnesses including firefighters who responded to the various fires, state police officers who investigated the fires, and experts in arson fires and DNA sampling.

Lavelle said a fingerprint and DNA found on a pack of matches led to Swartz being arrested in the case.

Swartz pleaded guilty to 16 criminals counts in the case in January 2010. He later withdrew his plea saying he was innocent of the charges.

Trooper David Klitsch, deputy fire marshal, is the prosecutor in the case. Klitsch charged that Swartz was responsible for setting 16 brush fires during a period of March 17 to April 18, 2008.

Klitsch interviewed Swartz in November 2008 at the Summit Hill police station at which time he said the defendant admitted to setting the fires.

Investigators said Swartz's DNA and a fingerprint was found on a pack of matches found at the scene of one of the fires. Lavelle said most of the fires were set by a lit cigarette being attached to a pack of matches with a rubber band and then discarded in the brush.

The fires also occurred in Parryville and Franklin Township. Authorities said the fires were close to homes and businesses and were considered to be very dangerous.

No one was injured in any of the fires.

Defense Attorney Michael Gough told the jury in his opening statement that Swartz will take the witness stand and explain how his DNA and fingerprint could have been found on a pack of matches. Gough said Swartz grew up in Lower Towamensing Township and his family owns property where the fires occurred.

He also said Swartz was under great duress when interviewed by Klitsch due to family pressures.

Gough told the panel he was going to call at least four other witnesses in addition to Swartz.

At a prior court proceeding Gough moved to have the confession suppressed but the motion was denied by Nanovic following a hearing.

The lone witness yesterday was Rory Koons, fire safety officer for the Aquashicola Fire Company, and former fire chief, who responded to several of the fires.

He testified to where the fires occurred, the damage done, the closeness to homes and buildings, and the number of firefighters and equipment which responded to each fire.

The trial is expected to take about four days.

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