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Monessen teenager charged in arson spree

viarsonarrest1012415
Jeremy Sellew | Trib Total Media
Police have charged a 17-year-old Monessen boy for allegedly setting the fire that destroyed this vacant house at 1220 Knox Ave. in Monessen on Friday, Jan. 16, and Sat. Jan. 17, 2015.
viarsonarrest012415
Jeremy Sellew | Trib Total Media
Police have charged a 17-year-old Monessen boy for allegedly setting the fire that destroyed this vacant house in the 600 block of Ninth Street in Monessen on Sat. Jan. 17, 2015.

Monessen police have accused a 17-year-old boy of setting or attempting to set three fires Jan. 16 and 17.

The boy, who was charged as a juvenile and has not been identified, lives near the fire scenes, according to court documents.

The first fire occurred Jan. 16 at a building on 10th Street. No charges have been filed in that incident.

While firefighters were battling that blaze, the boy allegedly set a building on fire at 1220 Knox Ave.

On the morning of Jan. 17, the boy started a fire that damaged two structures in the 600 block of Ninth Street, police claim.

The same morning, the boy tried to rekindle the Ninth Street fire but failed, police said.

Police charged the boy with arson-danger of death or bodily injury; arson and related offenses; dangerous burning; causing a catastrophe; criminal mischief-damaging property; and criminal trespass.

Police Lt. James Smith and state police fire marshals Eric Graham and Steve Thompson interviewed numerous people about the rash of arsons that took place in a four-block area.

“Several individuals indicated (the juvenile) as the individual who lit at least one of the fires in the 600 block of Ninth Street,” an affidavit of probable cause states.

In a written statement, Tyler Canzonieri, who was arrested Thursday in connection with a Dec. 29 arson at the intersection of Ninth Street and Knox Avenue, allegedly told police the juvenile admitted to setting a fire that ignited a tablecloth at the Ninth Street structure.

Another young witness told police he and the suspect were at a party on Ninth Street and walked to Shaka Tansmore’s house on McMahon Avenue. Tansmore, who was not home, was arrested with Canzonieri and charged with arson and other counts in connection with the Dec. 29 fire.

Back at the party, the suspect allegedly asked the witness if he wanted to burn down a house. The suspect then allegedly went into the 628 Ninth St. building and twice unsuccessfully tried to start a fire, the complaint states.

On Monday, Monessen Municipal Fire Chief Chris Rhome said he was touring the fire scenes with police officers and firefighters when he came across the failed arson attempt on Ninth Street.

“He admitted to us that while crews were fighting the fire on 10th Street, he set the fire at 1220 Knox Ave,” Smith said of the suspect. “He supposedly lit some curtains on fire from the front porch.”

The suspect’s mother was present as investigators interviewed the boy, the affidavit notes.

Additional charges

Police Lt. Mike Kelemen filed additional charges against the boy stemming from a separate incident that occurred during the Ninth Street fire.

In that case, the boy was charged with causing or risking a catastrophe, recklessly endangering another person and disorderly conduct.

Police said the boy got into a city fire truck as firefighters battled the fire he allegedly set on Ninth Street.

According to an affidavit of probable cause in that case, police received a call from firefighters at the intersection of Ninth Street and Summit Avenue.

Monessen Hilltop Chief Delmar Hepple told police that crews heard the air brakes being activated on the 25-ton truck. Hepple said he saw the suspect sitting in the truck’s cab pushing buttons.

“If he would have disengaged those brakes – wow. If it wouldn’t have taken several houses and made that bend, it would have taken out two more fire trucks and at least a dozen people. It would have been real bad,” Rhome said.

The boy allegedly told police he exited the truck “to see what the commotion was about,” adding he saw the fire truck and decided to sit in it.

The suspect was taken to the Monessen Police Station, where Kelemen attempted to reach the teen’s mother, who was at work. Police said the boy had a lighter in his pocket. He was taken to his house and ordered to stay there, the complaint states.

Probe continues

Smith said the investigation will continue.

“We’ve got one more that we have to figure out, but I’m confident we will,” Smith said of the 10th Street fire. “We still have some more interviews to do.”

Police Chief John Mandarino said the case is unusual.

“The guys put a lot of time and hard work into solving this case,” Mandarino said. “It’s rare because you have five fires and a lot of people involved investigating and as potential suspects.”

Smith said the fire department did more than fight the blazes.

The fifth fire, discovered by a city police officer, was knocked down quickly.

“I have to thank the fire department and Chris Rhome for the job they did,” Mandarino said. “They were the first on scene, and their actions helped us obtain evidence that was crucial in the investigation.”

“There were a lot … just so many people interviewed and so many stories we heard,” Smith said.

Rhome cited the work of Smith, Thompson and Graham.

“Thankfully the investigation is winding down and we can relax a little bit,” Rhome said. “I think the number of fires in the short amount of time … It was great to see everyone put their heads together and get the job done.”

Rhome said Thompson is nearing retirement.

“It’s been a pleasure working with him. He’s top shelf, and I’m going to miss him,” Rhome said. “I’ve had a great working relationship for over 15 years. I’m jealous of him because he’s only a year older than me and he’s retiring.”

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