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Four charged in connection with recent fires in Washington, Frederick counties

April 09, 2013|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Morgan Thomas Nield, Tyler William Murray, Sarah Camille Mathews and Olivia Marie Hannah have been charged in connection with nearly 40 recent fires in Washington and Frederick counties.
Maryland State Fire Marshal's Office

Two Washington County residents are among four people who have been charged with starting fires that authorities believe were set initially out of boredom and progressed into a vendetta against a local deputy state fire marshal, the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office said.

The Fire Marshal’s Office and other law enforcement agencies announced the charges during a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Maryland State Police barrack south of Hagerstown.

In addition to the Washington County residents, two women who live in Frederick County were charged in connection with the fires:

• Tyler William Murray, 20, of 16615 Coney Court in Williamsport, was charged with six counts of second-degree arson and one count of first-degree malicious burning.

• Morgan Thomas Nield, 20, of 15804 Spade Road west of Hagerstown, was charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit second-degree arson and attempted arson.

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• Olivia Marie Hannah, 20, of 5796 Hurdle Hill Court in Frederick, Md., was charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit second-degree arson and second-degree malicious burning.

• Sarah Camille Mathews, 20, of 5812 Morland Drive North in Adamstown, Md., was charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit second-degree arson and second-degree malicious burning.

The charges were in connection with only vehicle and structural damages. Charges did not include fires that were set involving mailboxes, mulch and hay bales.

Maryland State Fire Marshal William E. Barnard said during the news conference that 60 investigators have worked around the clock since the first fire was set on the night of March 17. Investigators estimated that 40 fires were set over a three-week period.

“It went on and progressed to vehicles,” Barnard said. “There were several vehicles that were burned. (It) also progressed on to structures.”

He said the vendetta against the deputy state fire marshal started late last week, when one of the suspects used black spray paint to write, “State Fire Marshal Ernst, catch me if you can” on a privately owned vehicle in the Halfway area.

That phrase was directed toward Deputy State Fire Marshal Ed Ernst, who was the lead investigator on the case.

Ernst said one of the suspects also painted, “Trash cans, cars and barns” on a privately owned work van. Neither of the vehicles on which the phrases were painted was burned.

Barnard said about 40 fires were set — eight in Frederick County and the rest in Washington County. He declined to say if the suspects worked as individuals or as a group. He also chose not to answer a question about whether the suspects, who investigators believe in some cases met over the Internet, used accelerants to start the fires.

“Investigators still have some more people they need to speak with, and there may be some other charges,” he said.

The fires in Washington County included a barn that was set ablaze on the night of March 27 off Lappans Road near Boonsboro. At the time, residents said they were concerned the person or people who were setting the fires might progress to burning someone’s home.

Washington County Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said the string of arsons has been a “nightmare” for Washington County.

“It certainly has caused a lot of terror and fear amongst our members of the community,” he said.

Barnard, Mullendore and Maryland State Police Lt. Tom Woodward praised local law enforcement personnel at the news conference for the way they handled the investigation.

“What a great sharing of resources and of information between all the people involved in this investigation,” Woodward said. “It truly shows what we can accomplish if we do pool our resources and work together.”

Investigators said no one was injured as a result of the fires. The damages were estimated at $200,000.

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