SHARPSVILLE — A Sharpsville woman is in Mercer County Jail on accusations that she set a Thursday morning fire that displaced two dozen residents.
Courtney Diane Speir-Chrastina, 25, was arrested by police for after police said she started the fire at the Trail Blazer Building at 100 W. Ridge Ave., Sharpsville.
According to a criminal complaint, Sharpsville police were alerted to the fire around 2:24 a.m. Officer Frank Joseph arrived at the scene and found residents leaving the building. They told Joseph there were smoke and flames on the first floor, which Joseph noticed was in the area of Apartment 24.
Sharpsville, Hermitage and Sharon firefighters extinguished the blaze. No one was inside the apartment, but police noted a strong odor of gasoline.
Sharpsville Volunteer Assistant Fire Chief Ed Getaway suspected the fire was arson, and called Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal Duwayne Baird to the scene.
While waiting for the fire marshal, Joseph interviewed the other residents and found that someone reported seeing a red Dodge SUV parked behind the building around midnight. Joseph said he remembered seeing a vehicle matching that description in a parking lot across from the building at First Street and Ridge Avenue, according to the complaint.
The building owner and manager arrived at the scene and told police Apartment 24 had been rented to Speir-Chrastina, and that she also owned two gas cans sitting outside the apartment building. Investigators found a white smoke alarm in the grass near a rear entrance close to Apartment 24, according to the criminal complaint.
Police reported finding the two gasoline cans, but one was only partially full and appeared to have been recently moved.
Investigators found Speir-Chrastina inside the SUV, which matched the witness’ description. She denied being in the building at the time of the fire and said she left about 2:23 to 2:28 a.m. when there was no fire, although Joseph said he arrived at the building about 2:25 to 2:26 a.m. and found the entire first floor filled with smoke, the complaint states.
An odor detector wand did not find any gas on Speir-Chrastina, who said the gas cans were hers and that she threw the smoke alarm in the grass about three days before because it was “acting up.” However, the building’s owner said he was mowing grass the day prior and the smoke alarm was not there.
Police called in an accelerant-detecting dog from Beaver Fire Department. The dog indicated the presence of an accelerant on Speir-Chrastina’s bare right foot. As she was arrested a few feet from the SUV, the dog then detected a long-necked grill lighter under the driver’s seat of her vehicle.
The dog later detected accelerant in every room of Apartment 24.
Police took Speir-Chrastina was taken to Sharpsville police station. According to the criminal complaint, she told investigators that she started the fire in response to a pending eviction and other circumstances.
Speir-Chrastina is facing charges of risking catastrophe, 19 counts of aggravated arson with a person present inside the property, possession of explosive or incendiary material, criminal mischief, 10 counts of arson with danger of death or bodily injury, arson of an inhabited building or structure, 39 counts of recklessly endangering another person and causing a catastrophe, according to court documents.
No one was injured in the fire. Police officers, as well as firefighters at the scene, had to help the residents evacuate the building, including carrying out people who were handicapped, Sharpsville police Chief Christopher Hosa said.
“This is an incident that definitely could’ve been a lot worse,” Hosa said. “Fortunately, nobody sustained any injuries.”
Speir-Chrastina placed in Mercer County Jail on a $100,000 bond.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., Aug. 15 in front of District Judge Dennis M. Songer, Sharon.
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