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Lansford man charged in arson

Published January 02. 2013 05:02PM

Erick Mack, 31, 334 W. Patterson St., Lansford, faces charges from an incident which took place on Oct. 19-20 at 332 W. Patterson St. Charges were filed by Det./Sgt. Jack Soberick and Officer Joshua Tom. Mack is charged with eight counts of arson, risking a catastrophe, retaliation against a witness or victim, six counts of recklessly endangering another person, unsworn falsification to authorities, and two counts of criminal mischief.

He was arraigned and committed to prison under $100,000 cash bail.

According to an affidavit of probable cause filed by Soberick, here's what happened:

At about 7:20 p.m. Oct. 19, Lansford officers Chris Ondrus and Joshua Tom responded to a complaint of a disturbance at 3334 W. Patterson St. they learned that the caller, Mack, earlier had been involved in a physical confrontation with a juvenile, whom Mack had accused of creating the disturbance.

As a result of the investigation, Tom informed Mack that he would receive criminal charges against him via the U.S. Post Office.

At about 10:10 p.m. Oct. 19, borough fire, police and ambulance crews responded to a report of a dwelling fire at 332 W. Patterson, a block of wood frame, double block homes separated by narrow alleys.

Reports indicated it was a "working fire," with flames showing.

The fire was found to be in the alleyway between 330 and 332 W. Patterson Street. Although the fire had extended to both homes, it was contained by firefighters and by the residents of 332 W. Patterson.

However, the homes were damaged. The initial inspection by borough fire officials Ron Hood, Joe Cannon and Joe Greco found that the fire had started on the exterior of the homes, and appeared to have originated on or next to 332 W. Patterson. State fire marshal and borough fire officials were asked to investigate further, as there was no clear accidental or natural cause.

The resident/owner of 330 W. Patterson, Giovanni Casuccio, was home when the fire broke out. His home was damaged.

The rental home at 332 W. Patterson, owned by Elaine Giltner, received significant damage to the east side exterior wall, and side porch, which was destroyed. At the time, the home was occupied by the tenant, her children and guests.

The investigation revealed the fire started on the side porch. investigators found a melted plastic gasoline can, which was missing its lid. Nearby was a label from a plastic gas container, and investigators found the lid to the container a short distance away.

As investigators worked, Tom noticed Mack, standing on his front porch, dressed in camouflage. During the earlier call, officers noted that Mack had been dressed in a baseball cap, black T-shirt and jeans. Before Tom could contact Mack, Mack went into his home, at 334 W. Patterson. After a considerable delay, Mack finally came to the door. This time, he had changed clothes again, and was wearing a black T-shirt, black and white checkered shorts and white socks.

Police interviewed Mack, who denied having any knowledge of what had happened. He told police he had gone to his mother's house in Summit Hill at 10 p.m. and had only just returned.

Shortly after the interview, Mack was seen leaving his home. Tom was directed to approach him and ask for a written statement documenting his observations, or lack thereof, of activity that could be related to the fire.

Mack complied, and provided a written statement, again indicating he had been at his mother's home, and and had no idea what had occurred in his absence.

Officer Tod Woodward of the Summit Hill Police Department was asked to interview Mack's mother, Susan Estason. She provided a written statement that she had stopped by her son's home in Lansford between 5-5:30 p.m. Oct. 19, and had not seen him since.

At about 3:45 p.m. Oct. 21, Mack contacted Lansford Officer Robert Shubeck. Mack came to the police station and, after being given and waiving his Miranda rights, provided another written statement concerning the events of Oct. 19.

In this statement, he admitted to having had a confrontation with the neighbors. He wrote that he went to a Turkey Hill Minit mart in Tamaqua, where he bought the gas can and gas.

Mack wrote that he returned to Lansford, parked near the Panther Valley football stadium, and walked to his neighbor's home at 332 W. Patterson. There, he poured gas on the home and set it on fire.

He then walked away, and stayed about a block away for about a half-hour before returning home.

Mack included in his statement that he had given false information to police when first interviewed. But now, he wrote, the knowledge that he had committed the crime was bothering him, so he was confessing.

State Trooper and Fire Marshal Jamison E. Sgarlat completed his investigation, concluding the fire had been deliberately set. The point of origin was the side porch, at the top of the steps, a scenario that matched Mack's confession.

Soberick wrote in the affidavit that, based on his investigation, observations, and evidence obtained at the scene, as well as the investigations by the state fire marshal, borough fire officers and police, as well as Mack's confession, led him to conclude that Mack, after becoming angry with disruptive juvenile neighbors, planned to retaliate against the occupants of 332 W. Patterson.

His plan included dressing in camouflage, traveling to Tamaqua for the gas can and gasoline, parking away from the scene, and setting the fire.

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