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Law enforcement officials praised for arrests in Washington County fires

April 10, 2013|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham presents Sheriff Douglas Mullendore with a Kudos candy bar after Mullendore briefed the commissioners of the arrests of four people in a recent string of arsons.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Two weeks ago, Dean Reeder stood outside the charred remains of his barn near Boonsboro, wondering if authorities would ever bring the people who set the fire to justice.

At the time, his Lappans Road barn and nearly 20 other properties were among fires that were intentionally set across Washington County over a one-week span that began on March 17.

On Wednesday, however, he and several other people whose property was burned praised law enforcement officials, particularly the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office, for charging four people with the crimes.

“It’s certainly a relief” that someone has been charged, Reeder said. “Hopefully, this will be the end of it. It’s been a trying episode for everyone involved.”

The Fire Marshal’s Office announced Tuesday during a press conference that it had charged two Washington County men and two Frederick County women with setting fire to Reeder’s barn, and several other structures and vehicles:

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• 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 arson-trash containers.

• 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 Fire Marshal’s Office said those charges did not include fires that were set to mailboxes, bales of hay and mulch. All together, authorities said they were investigating a total of 40 related fires that are estimated to have caused $200,000 in damages.

Keedysville resident Richard Walton, who also was victimized by the fires, said he awoke on the morning of March 23 to the sound of a neighbor knocking on his door.

“He was knocking on my door, yelling that my Jeep was on fire ... My Jeep just blew up in my back yard. It looked like the streets of Baghdad after a bombing,” he said.

Walton, who described the fires as the “act of a terrorist,” said he had planned to drive the 1999 Jeep Wrangler to Southern California. The vehicle, he said, was to be a gift to his twin grandchildren on their 16th birthday.

Walton said he had nothing but praise for investigators for taking just three weeks to file charges.

“I think it was a stellar performance ... I’m glad they were caught before they did further damage,” he said.

Keedysville resident Stacey Fitzpatrick became one of the first victims of the fires when her trash can was set ablaze in the early morning hours of March 18 — about an hour after the first fire was recorded in two plastic trash containers at a Williamsport address on St. Patrick’s Day.

“I was very happy when I found out (Tuesday when they were charged),” Fitzpatrick said. 

Crystal Brown said she believed the people who set fire to her garage on Clevelandtown Road — destroying a vehicle and other items inside — might return to do further damage.

“We weren’t changing anything in the way we lived, but we felt apprehensive,” she said.

Brown praised investigators for making the arrests.

“I thought it was a wonderful thing that all these agencies worked together,” she said. “I think the whole community is relieved.”

Robert Foltz said the mailbox at his Lappans Road home was burned on the same night as Reeder’s barn.

He said a fire marshal had just left his house when his wife looked out the bedroom window and saw the barn burning in the distance.

“There was no way you could fight it,” he said. “It was engulfed in flames up to the sky.”

Foltz said he couldn’t comprehend why the people who set the barn fire chose to target a “working farm.”

“If they didn’t care anymore about livestock, then who’s to say they weren’t actually going to kill someone,” he said.

Clarification

This story, which first appeared online April 10, 2013, and in the print edition of The Herald-Mail on April 11, 2013, failed to mention the names of all of the owners of a barn that was intentionally set on fire in March 2013 in the 19400 block of Lappans Road near Boonsboro. The barn was owned by Dean, Dennis and Nelson Reeder.

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