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Two charged in Pa. fire

January 20, 2006|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. - Two Greencastle, Pa., men have been charged by Pennsylvania State Police with the Sept. 2 blaze that caused $5 million damage to the Chambersburg Waste Paper Co., although police believe the fire was not intentionally set.

Eric Alden Frain, 21, of 1307 Preston Lane, and Trenton Allen Christophel, 21, of 7914 Browns Mill Road, both were charged with two third-degree felony counts of arson and related offenses, one third-degree felony count of causing or risking a catastrophe, a misdemeanor count of failure to prevent a catastrophe and a summary charge of criminal trespass, according to the criminal complaint filed Thursday with Magisterial District Judge Kelly Rock's office.

Neither man was arraigned or jailed on the charges and no date was set for a preliminary hearing, according to Rock's office. "They were riding around looking for a place to drink beer," State Police Fire Marshal Trooper Jeffrey A. Sarver said Thursday. "I am satisfied at this point they did not go there to burn the building down."

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Sarver wrote in the affidavit of probable cause that Frain and Christophel drove to the plant site at 2047 Loop Road in Guilford Township about 6:10 p.m. While behind the building, they set fire to wooden sticks soaked with diesel fuel, according to the criminal complaint. Sarver said one of the burning sticks was thrown against one of two large round bales of paper next to the building, which caught fire.

He said Frain and Christophel tried to stomp out the fire, but "the fire was of such magnitude they panicked" and fled. "I had to do a lot of footwork ... I didn't have too much shoe leather left," Sarver said of the investigation.

During the course of the investigation, Sarver said he received information that gave him clues to the identity of the suspects, including the first name of one and the nickname of another. "I interviewed a lot of people" before narrowing the investigation to Frain and Christophel, he said.

The two men were interviewed separately over a three-hour period Wednesday night and gave police statements about the fire, Sarver said. Neither man had any ties to the business prior to the night of the fire, Sarver said. There was no preliminary arraignment because Frain and Christophel are not considered risks to flee the area, he said.

Each of the felony charges against the men carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison upon conviction, according to Pennsylvania law. In terms of dollar value, the Chambersburg Waste Paper fire was one of the biggest in Franklin County in years.

Following the Friday night fire, firefighters returned to the scene several times over the Labor Day weekend to put out small fires that rekindled in the charred ruins of the 75,000-square-foot building. Within a few days of the fire, however, the business, which recycles corrugated paper, cardboard, office paper, newsprint and other materials, was back in operation in 65,000 square feet of rented warehouse space on Molly Pitcher Highway.

President Kelly Adams said at the time that the company's vehicles and records were saved from the fire, its 75 employees were back at work and he planned to rebuild at the 15-acre Loop Road site. Adams was unavailable for comment Thursday, according to a company employee.

Chambersburg Waste Paper Co. was started by Adams' father in 1974 and moved to Loop Road in 1976, Adams said in September.

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