Spruill

Spruill Jr.

FARRELL – Another person believed to have been connected to the December Farrell daycare arson has been charged.

Robert Milton Spruill Jr., 35, of 1207 Negley St., Farrell, faces conspiracy to commit aggravated arson, causing a catastrophe, criminal trespass and reckless endangerment charges in connection with the crime. He is in Mercer County Jail after failing to post $200,000.

Spruill is accused of driving the arson suspect, Dustin Lovell Morrow, to the building for the purpose of setting it on fire.

According to the criminal complaint, Spruill also returned to the scene of the fire and recorded the building burning while at the same time letting his girlfriend, Anna Theresa Santana-Benavides, the building owner’s daughter, know what was going on via phone.

A “cooperating witness” told the investigating officer, detective Captain Chuck Rubano, that Spruill and Santana-Benavides, were the “middle men” for Colon Santana, the building’s owner, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

Rubano would not say if Colon Santana will be charged in connection with the case. 

“The investigation is ongoing,” was Rubano’s only comment.

Rubano testified in court last week that Morrow told him that Santana-Benavides gave them a key to the building at 841 Sharon New Castle Road, which houses Caring 4 Kids daycare center, and a $5,000 deposit to burn it down. Once the job was complete, Morrow said he was to receive $50,000.

According to the affidavit, a “cooperating witness” told Rubano that Spruill drove “them” around Farrell on the night of Dec. 21. The witness said Spruill was driving the 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe belonging to Santana-Benavides. 

The witness said Spruill assisted him in making sure the immediate area of the business was clear of police. The two then arrived at the business. The witness did not have the right key to get into the steel door, so he and Spruill met Santana-Benavides, who gave them the correct key, the affidavit stated.

Spruill and the witness then returned to the business, the witness said. The Santa Fe already contained two five-gallon gasoline cans, which were left at the business on the first attempt to get in. Once they returned, the witness said he entered the business and dumped the gasoline all over the building, while Spruill waited in the car to drive away.

After dousing the building in gasoline, the witness said he lit a piece of paper and set the fire. Because of the amount of accelerant used, the business exploded.

After watching the explosion and fire on video surveillance, Rubano testified that the building “exploded into a fireball.”

“There’s a massive explosion that just blew out the windows,” he testified.

The witness got back into the Santa Fe being driven by Spruill and left the area, he said.

Morrow, 31, of 506 Emerson Ave., Farrell, has been charged with 48 counts including conspiracy to commit arson, causing a catastrophe, criminal trespass and reckless endangerment. Morrow is in the Mercer County Jail after failing to post $250,000 bond. His charges were waived to Mercer County Court of Common Pleas in the beginning of February. His next court date is April 3 in Mercer.

Santana-Benavides, 27, of 1118 Negley St., Farrell, was charged with arson, causing a catastrophe, criminal trespass and reckless endangerment in connection to the case. Her charges were held over to common pleas court last week. She is free after posting $250,000 bond. Her next court date is April 23 in Mercer.

A preliminary hearing for Spruill is set for 9 a.m. March 8 in front of District Magistrate Mary Ann Odem of Farrell.

Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @HeraldKlaric, email: mklaric@sharonherald.com

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