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Bond hearings held for four more charged in Washington County fires

Two Clear Spring men and two Mercersburg, Pa., women were arrested

April 18, 2013|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com

Bond hearings were held Thursday for three of four people charged Wednesday by the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s Office in connection with a series of arsons in Washington County on the night of March 22 and 24.

Two Clear Spring men and two Mercersburg, Pa., women were charged, their arrests bringing the number of people accused in the arson spree between March 17 and April 7 to eight, Washington County District Court records said.

The bond on Brandy Lynnett Sneider-Koontz, 19, of 10733 Knob Road, Mercersburg, Pa., was reduced from $120,000 to $65,000 during a bond review before District Judge Mark D. Thomas.

Thomas lowered the bond for Sarah Nicole Couch, 18, of 9024 Tea Drive, Mercersburg, from $80,000 to $25,000. Bail for Jacob Colin Hess, 18, of 14336 National Pike, Clear Spring, remained at $25,000.

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His brother, Joshua Ryan Hess, 19, of 14336 National Pike, Clear Spring, posted a $10,000 bond and was released Wednesday, court records said.

On April 9, the Fire Marshal’s Office announced the arrests of Tyler Murray, 20, of Williamsport, Sarah Mathews, 19, of Adamstown, Md., Olivia Hannah, 20, of Frederick, and Morgan Nield, 20, of Hagerstown.

A Washington County grand jury hearing is scheduled for April 30 in the cases of Murray, Mathew’s, Hannah and Nield, the Fire Marshal’s Office said.

Charging documents allege that Hannah, Nield and Mathew’s participated with Murray in setting fires to trash cans, vehicles, a barn and vacant building between mid-March and the first week of April.

On the night of March 22, Deputy State Fire Marshal Ed Ernst went to several fires small fires in the Williamsport area, and a trash can fire on Gay Street in Hagerstown, charging documents said.

Ernst was then called to a vehicle fire on Maple Street in Funkstown, then another vehicle fire on South Main Street in Keedysville, charging documents said.

Other vehicles were set on fire two nights later, charging documents said.

During the investigation, Sneider-Koontz was interviewed and told investigators that she, Murray, Joshua Hess and Couch drove to Williamsport on March 22, where Murray set a fire using a lubricating spray and a lighter as a torch, charging documents allege. They then set the other fires before taking Murray home, the documents said.

Sneider-Koontz told investigators Murray wanted to go out again on March 24 and they drove to Boonsboro where he set fire to a vehicle on Lappans Road, charging documents said. They then went to burn the vehicle of a person Joshua Hess knew, but Hess did not want to be the “prime suspect,” the documents said.

They changed vehicles at Joshua Hess’ house and Jacob Hess went with Murray and Sneider-Koontz to Betty’s Avenue, charging documents said. Murray and Jacob Hess set fire to a Lincoln Navigator, charging documents said.

Sneider-Koontz faces 30 charges, including three counts of second-degree arson and several counts of criminal conspiracy and malicious destruction of property, court records said.

Couch was charged with 22 counts, including two counts of second-degree arson, and multiple charges of criminal conspiracy and malicious destruction of property, court records said.

Joshua Hess was charged with 28 offenses, including three counts of second-degree arson, along with counts of criminal conspiracy and malicious destruction of property, court records said.

Jacob Hess was charged with four offenses, including second-degree arson, criminal conspiracy, and malicious destruction of property, court records said.

The first arrests took place earlier this month after Murray called police to report someone tried to break into his vehicle and set a trash can on fire, a charging document said. A Washington County deputy went to his Coney Court home and found a stencil matching words painted on a car at one of the first fire scenes — “State Fire Marshal Ernst Catch Me If You Can,” document said.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office stated Wednesday that the arrests were part of an investigation into fires in Washington and Frederick counties, although none of the suspects had been charged in Frederick County, according to court records

Deputy State Fire Marshal Bruce D. Bouch said Thursday that Frederick County authorities were investigating eight small fires, but had yet to file charges.

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