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July 25, 2012

Chatley to trial over Conneaut Lake area arson

LINESVILLE —  A Conneaut Lake man accused of burning a home near Conneaut Lake Park in June has been ordered held for trial in Crawford County Court of Common Pleas on felony arson and related charges.

Steven Lee Chatley, 28, of 12658 Reed Ave., Conneaut Lake, was ordered to be tried on Pennsylvania State Police felony charges of one count each of arson, burglary, criminal mischief and criminal trespass following a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Rita Marwood in Linesville.

Chatley is accused by state police of burning a summer home at 12687 Reed Ave., not far from his residence, on June 28. The burned home, across Route 618 from Conneaut Lake Park, was owned by Eugene and Terry Peters of Virginia Beach, Va., according to court testimony Tuesday.

Dressed in blue prison garb, Chatley showed no reaction during Tuesday’s one-hour hearing as four witnesses offered testimony.

Nikolas Pierce, 27, testified he was at Chatley’s home the night of June 27 and early morning of June 28.

Pierce testified he saw Chatley walk up Reed Avenue and go around the home that burned. Pierce also testified he noticed Chatley “had a can in his hand” at the time, but couldn’t tell exactly what Chatley was holding.

However, on direct testimony and under cross-examination, Pierce said he never saw Chatley enter the home that burned. Chatley came back to his own home about five minutes later, Pierce said.

Pierce said he later noticed the home on fire and began walking up to the fire scene when fire trucks arrived. Pierce said Chatley then drove up Reed Avenue, picked up Pierce in front of the home that was by then on fire, and the two drove the short distance back to Chatley’s home.

Pierce testified Chatley had walked back to the Chatley house before fire trucks arrived but didn’t say anything to Pierce when he returned. Pierce testified he didn’t ask Chatley why he had gone to the home.

Diana R. Orr, who lived next door to the burned home, testified she awoke shortly before 1 a.m. June 28 to the sound of glass breaking and noticed the home next door was on fire. Orr testified that after she had called 911 she saw two persons near the home.

Nicholas Thom, a volunteer fireman with Conneaut Lake Park Volunteer Fire Department, who lives adjacent to the burnt home, testified he saw both Chatley and Pierce outside the home as it was burning. Thom testified he saw Steve Chatley driving away from the scene.

Trooper Kenneth Hamilton, a deputy Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal who investigated the fire’s cause, testified it was an arson.

Hamilton said interviews with firemen found the rear door of the home was ajar while the other doors to the home had to be forced open by firemen.

The fire, which began on the first floor alongside a staircase, had a circular burn pattern — an indication an accelerant of some type was used to spread the fire more rapidly, he said.

Interviews with both Pierce and Chatley found Chatley gave conflicting statements, Hamilton said, including Chatley saying he wasn’t at the burnt home and that he hadn’t left his home.

Following Tuesday’s hearing, Chatley was returned to the Crawford County jail in lieu of $50,000 bond.

The June 28 fire was the sixth fire investigated in the Conneaut Lake Park area in recent months and was across the street from two abandoned residential properties where fires also occurred recently. However, Chatley only has been charged with the June 28 fire.

The cause of one fire, at a residence in Sadsbury Township, was ruled as accidental and electrical in nature by Hamilton, but the other night-time fires at abandoned structures in the area remain under investigation by state police.

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

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