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Arson suspect had called Washington County Sheriff's Office deputy to home

Once there, the deputy noticed a stencil that said 'State Fire Marshal (Ed) Ernst, catch me if you can,' lying in the grass in plain view

April 10, 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

Four people who have been charged with setting a number of fires across Washington County were arrested after one of them called deputies to his Williamsport home, where evidence was found linking him to the investigation, according to court documents.

The statement of probable cause obtained Wednesday from Washington County District Court alleges that Tyler William Murray, 20, of 16615 Coney Court, called authorities to file a complaint that someone had tried to break into his vehicle and set his trash can on fire.

But when a Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy arrived, he noticed a stencil that said “State Fire Marshal (Ed) Ernst, catch me if you can,” lying in the grass in plain view.

The stencil was consistent with words that were painted with black spray paint, defacing the hood of a Toyota Camry that was parked in the area where the first of an estimated 40 related fires originated March 17.

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Investigators said the fires spanned over a three-week period.

Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said Wednesday that deputies already had been conducting surveillance on Murray’s home based on his previous history with the Fire Marshal’s Office. He said that history, on which he did not elaborate, had nothing to do with the recent string of fires.

Mullendore said Murray gave investigators the break they needed when he called to file the complaint.

“It was just one of the freak events that happened to break this thing open,” he said.

Mullendore said that after the deputy found the stencil, he “secured” Murray and the house. The Fire Marshal’s Office then obtained a search warrant.

Afterward, Murray was taken by his grandfather to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for an interview.

“Tyler admitted to being present on several fires during the period of March 17, 2013, and April 7, 2013,” the statement of probable cause said. “He said that he was the lookout on several (fires) and would stay in the car on others.”

Police allege Murray told investigators that Frederick County residents Olivia Hannah and Sarah Mathews were responsible for setting the fires. Authorities then summoned Hannah and Mathews for interviews.

Court documents allege that Hannah told investigators she, Mathews, Murray and Morgan Nield would meet and ride around in a vehicle, stopping on occasion so Murray could set fires.

“She gave a list of several fires that she observed Tyler ignite,” court papers show. “She also revealed that she was the driver of the vehicle during these fires.”

Hannah allegedly told police that Murray burned a Chrysler Sebring in the 19400 block of Lappans Road on March 24, a Ford Escort Wagon in the 23100 block of Foxville Road near Smithsburg on March 28, and several other vehicles up until April 5, the documents say. Hannah also alleged to authorities that Murray set fire to the inside of a barn and ignited a vacant building off Dam No. 5 Road near Clear Spring, according to the statement of probable cause.

Police said Mathews and Nield also admitted to being in the vehicle when Murray started the fires.

During the interview with Nield, he allegedly confessed to investigators that he and Murray were riding around in the latter part of March, when Murray told him to stop the vehicle in the 19400 block of Lappans Road near Boonsboro.

Nield told police that Murray got out of the vehicle and ignited hay in the barn.

Murray was charged with six counts of second-degree arson and one count of first-degree malicious burning.

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

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.

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.

Murray was being held Wednesday in the Washington County Detention Center on a $200,000 bond. Nield was being held on a $25,000 bond.

Hannah and Mathews posted $25,000 bonds and were released from jail on Tuesday.

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