Former firefighter facing arson charges following Brackenridge blaze |
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Patrick Gillis

A firefighter accused of starting a May 21 fire which destroyed a Brackenridge home will face arson charges in court.

Patrick Gillis, 18, formerly a volunteer with the Pioneer Hose Fire Department in Brackenridge, is charged with felony counts of arson and intentionally destroying an unoccupied structure.

A third felony charge of causing a catastrophe was dropped Wednesday as Gillis waived his right to a preliminary hearing before District Judge Carolyn Bengel in Brackenridge.

The charges come after investigators say the fire that destroyed a duplex in the 800 block of Seventh Avenue was started by Gillis.

A witness told investigators that before the fire was discovered a man seen outside the house appeared to be “nervous and agitated, fidgeting, biting his nails and rolling his hands in his T-shirt,” according court documents.

The witness told investigators that the nervous man was later seen among the firefighters responding to the fire.

Another witness told investigators they saw Gillis at the house about 3:45 p.m., less than a half-hour before the blaze was reported.

When police questioned Gillis at the scene, he initially told them he had moved out of the Seventh Avenue home but was supposed to meet a friend at the duplex that afternoon. He told police he waited for his friend for five minutes and turned to leave when he received a page telling him to respond to the fire.

Officers indicate in court documents they didn’t buy Gillis’ story and so informed him of his Miranda rights and placed him in custody.

After Gillis was taken into custody, police said he confessed he started the fire by lighting paper and placing it in the microwave oven, according to court documents. Investigators with the Alle­gheny County Fire Marshal’s Office confirmed the fire began in the microwave.

Gillis allegedly told police he set the fire because he wanted to respond to a fire call.

While in court Wednesday, Gillis’ attorney, Rodney Blaine Jones, requested that his client’s bond, set at $25,000, be significantly reduced so Gillis could finish the school year during summer classes. Gillis is a senior at Highlands High School.

However, Assistant District Attorney Chris Marsili told the judge that his office was not inclined to consider such a reduction considering the nature of the charges. Further, after Jones asserted his client claimed he had a no prior criminal history, Bengel responded that Gillis had previously been charged with a misdemeanor crime.

Bengel denied Jones’ request and kept the bond set at $25,000.

Gillis was taken to the Alle­gheny County Jail ahead of an as-yet unscheduled formal arraignment in Pittsburgh.

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675, [email protected] or via Twitter @matthew_medsger.

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