Firefighter Charged in Pennsylvania Town’s Latest Arsons

March 25, 2009

A firefighter whose mother was displaced by a December arson in a struggling steel town beset by them was charged Monday with lighting two small trash fires there last week.

The fact Robert Tracey Jr. is a firefighter in Coatesville, a town of 11,000 residents just west of Philadelphia, made the charges particularly difficult for his colleagues, who’ve been strained by dozens of arsons since the beginning of last year, prosecutors said.

“It’s especially disturbing for them that one of their own could be responsible for incidents like this,” Chester County District Attorney Joseph Carroll told reporters from his office in West Chester.

Tracey, 37, was identified by witnesses who saw him running from the scene of Friday’s fires, which were set a few blocks apart and didn’t cause any injuries or significant damage, Carroll said. He was jailed in lieu of $2 million bail.

Attorney S. Lee Ruslander II, who represented Tracey in a previous unrelated case, declined to comment when reached by telephone Monday night.

Tracey is the sixth person arrested in connection with arsons in Coatesville and the surrounding area. He’s not charged in any of the other fires, one of which killed a woman, but Carroll said the investigation was continuing.

“I would love to say that this is the end, but it’s not,” Carroll said. “There are a number of unsolved arsons that likely cannot be tied to the suspects who have already been arrested.”

The Friday blazes bring to 22 the number of arsons in the city this year. They came a week after a fire badly damaged two homes.

There have been at least 48 arsons in Coatesville since February 2008 and at least 18 others in nearby communities.

A teenager accused of setting nine of the fires led investigators to several of the scenes and confessed in a police interview, law enforcement officials testified this month.

Roger Leon Barlow Jr., 19, was held for trial after a preliminary hearing on arson and aggravated assault charges in connection with blazes that broke out in Coatesville between Jan. 2 and Feb. 3. The arsons included a massive fire that severely damaged 15 row houses. Damage in that fire alone is estimated at $1.2 million.

A trial date has not been set.

On cross-examination of several witnesses, defense attorney Terrence J. Marlowe pointed out that no one had seen his client set the fires and that no physical evidence pointing to him had been found.

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