Meadville Tribune

July 11, 2013

Woman to trial over alleged holding cell arson

By Keith Gushard
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — A Meadville area woman has been ordered to stand trial in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas on multiple counts of arson and other charges for allegedly setting a fire in a holding cell at Meadville Police Department last month.

Diana L. Simons, 58, of 303 Park Place, Meadville, was held for trial on all charges following a preliminary hearing Thursday before Magisterial District Judge William Chisholm on two counts of arson endangering persons and single counts of arson endangering property, causing or risking a catastrophe, institutional vandalism, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and public drunkenness.

Meadville Police allege Simons used a lighter to set fire to her shirt while in a holding cell at Meadville Police Department around 2:20 a.m. June 21.

Simons was in the holding cell after she was arrested earlier in the morning for allegedly being drunk in public, according to testimony at Thursday’s hearing by Patrolman Raymond A. Swidorsky, the arresting officer. Swidorsky testified Simons was to be held six hours on the public drunkenness charge, given a citation for that alleged offense and released.

However, Swidorsky said Simons began arguing with police about the lack of being able to make a telephone call and covered the surveillance camera in the holding cell she was in three times.

Simons apparently found a lighter in the holding cell and used it to set fire to the shirt she was wearing after trying to cover the camera a third time, Swidorsky testified. Simons had taken the shirt off before lighting it, he said.

When asked by the Tribune on June 21 how Simons had access to a lighter while in a holding cell, Thomas Liscinski, assistant chief of police, said “It was missed.” Simons had been searched prior to being placed in the holding cell on a public drunkenness charge, Liscinski told the Tribune.

There were no injuries in the incident and damage was confined to staining of the bunk, floor and walls of Simons’ holding cell, Swidorsky testified at Thursday’s hearing. Officer Bryan Thompson took the shirt outside and stomped out the fire, though the Meadville Fire Department arrived to check the area as well, Swidorsky said.

Simons and another woman in another separate holding cell were moved to other holding cells within the department after the incident, Swidorsky said. The two women, a total of three officers, a civilian police dispatcher and two cleaning crew members were in the building at the time, he testified.

Simons was returned to the Crawford County jail in lieu of $100,000 bond following her preliminary hearing.

If convicted in county court on all counts, Simons faces a maximum of 66 years and six months in jail and $100,600 in fines. She currently is scheduled to stand trial during the November term of county criminal court.

 

Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kgushard@meadvilletribune.com.