By Konstantine Fekos
Upset due to facing eviction for allegedly being behind on his rent payments, authorities say Brandon Irwin, 20, started a fire in his former residence at Northgate Apartments in West Mead Township earlier this month.
Irwin was held for a preliminary hearing Friday morning before Meadville Area Magisterial District Judge William Chisholm, where Sgt. Mike Broderick of West Mead Township Police said Irwin owed about $1,100 in rent payments. Police testimonies place Irwin in his apartment, 13211 Laurel Drive, Apt. 1351, supposedly stressed regarding his impending eviction, lighting a piece of paper on fire and dropping it into a cardboard box with legal documents and other papers on March 11 at approximately 4:30 a.m.
Before the fire, Irwin had filed for an increase of about $35,000 to the approximate $60,000 limit of his renter’s insurance policy, according to Broderick.
Irwin was jailed and previously arraigned on charges of arson, danger of death or bodily injury; arson endangering property and criminal mischief. A joint police and fire investigation linked him to the origins of the Northgate Apartments blaze that displaced about a dozen residents and caused an estimated $1 million in damages on March 11.
Irwin’s preliminary hearing heard testimonies from Broderick and Kenneth Hamilton, state police trooper and deputy fire marshal, reviewing the investigation and evidence supporting their claim that Irwin started the fire.
Both officers, who interviewed Irwin at the scene and later at a state police barracks, said Irwin’s statements showed inconsistencies and several variations of an account detailing the fire’s origins.
After evidence was collected at the scene by investigators, Irwin confessed to setting the fire, according to the officers.
“During the course of this second interview, Irwin again gave several different versions of his actions that evening in relation to how the fire was started,” the affidavit of probable cause filed with the charges stated. “Ultimately after several hours, Irwin stated that he was ‘bored’ and ‘stressed’ over certain aspects that were transpiring in his life at that moment in time the morning of March 11, 2014.”
Irwin gave no comment throughout Friday’s hearing and his defense attorney, public defender Bruce Barrett, offered no argument or testimony after cross-examining both officers.
Chisholm bound Irwin’s charges over to the next term of court. No court date has been officially announced.
Irwin returned to Crawford County jail in lieu of $150,000 monetary bail.