The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

March 10, 2014

Woman admits to burning down daughter's home

By Monica Pryts
Allied News Staff Writer

SLIPPERY ROCK TOWNSHIP — A Fenelton woman has been charged with arson for burning down her daughter’s Slippery Rock Township rental home Feb. 13 – a crime she admitted to while under psychiatric care, claiming she did it because the living conditions weren’t fit for the family.

Jennifer Christine Brown, 42, was charged last week by Trooper DuWayne Baird, deputy fire marshal with Butler state police, with arson, causing or risking a catastrophe and criminal mischief.

After arraignment she wa taken to Butler County Jail after failing to post bond.

Her preliminary hearing is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday before District Judge Timothy Shaffer, Slippery Rock.

According to the police affidavit:

Slippery Rock Fire Chief Dave Taggart asked Baird on Feb. 14 to investigate the origin and cause of a fire at 9:09 a.m. Feb. 13 at 137 Etna Road.

Baird visited the property, where the former two-story home had burned to the ground, leaving a pile of debris outside the foundation and in the basement. A detached garage and single-wide trailer also on the property were not damaged.

Because the fire caused such extensive damage to the home, Baird could not determine the cause and origin.

He interviewed the home’s tenant, Christine N. Lipke, 26, and learned that her mother, Brown, had been at the home the morning of the fire.

Lipke’s 4-year-old daughter was with Brown when Lipke left for work at 4:30 a.m. Feb. 13, and a friend of Lipke’s picked up her daughter around 8:30 a.m. to take her to school.

One of Lipke’s neighbors called 911 at 9:09 a.m. to report a fire coming from the back bedroom window of 137 Etna, and Slippery Rock firefighters were dispatched.

Baird learned that Brown had left the home around 9 a.m. and walked about a half-mile to an acquaintance’s home on Centerville Pike, telling the other woman “it was going to be a bad day” and asking if she heard any sirens.

The woman did not hear any sirens until about five minutes later and saw fire trucks pulling onto Etna Road. Lipke’s friend who had taken her daughter to school called, saying Lipke’s home was on fire, and Lipke was worried that Brown was still inside.

The woman told the caller Brown was with her, and Lipke came to pick her up and took her to Ridgeview Boarding Home in Fenelton, where Brown lives.

Baird was soon contacted by a Ridgeview staff member, who said they had been having problems with Brown and she threatened to burn down the boarding home. As a result, Brown had been sent to Clarion Psychiatric Center.

A staff member at the psychiatric center contacted Baird on Feb. 28 to tell him Brown had just shared this information: the conditions at the Etna Road home were “deplorable” and there were rats inside. Dirty dishes and garbage were piled up, the bathroom was freezing, the water was “ice cold” and the heat was “sparingly used.”

Brown also told the staff member she had lit the sheets on fire in the back bedroom, causing the house to burn down. Brown’s confession was written down at the center.

Baird spoke with Brown on Tuesday at the police station in Butler, where she was read her rights. She told Baird that on Feb. 13 she got her granddaughter ready for school, and the girl was picked up by Lipke’s friend.

Brown was home alone, got dressed, watched a movie, then took a bed sheet and set it on the floor beside the bed in the back bedroom and lit it on fire with a lighter, which she put back in her pocket.

She then walked out of the home, locking the door behind her, and went to the home on Centerville Pike.

“Brown said she lit the bed sheets on fire in hopes of burning the house down because she felt that the living conditions at the residence were deplorable and it was the only way she could get her daughter, Christine Lipke, and grandchildren out of that house.”

The police complaint does not mention any other children except for the 4-year-old girl.

The home was owned by Chad Alan Snow, 42, of Slippery Rock, and damage is estimated at $75,000.

Damage for Lipke’s property is estimated at $60,000.

A separate news release issued by Butler state police says total damages are estimated at $180,000.