Arsonist In Custody

Teen Performer Accused Of Starting Falconer Block Fire, City Blazes

Jamestown Police Chief Harry Snellings talks to reporters Wednesday at City Hall after announcing that a suspect linked to the recent string of fires was in custody. On Friday, additional felony charges were filed against the suspect. P-J photo by A.J. Rao

A Jamestown teen better known for his singing and local theater performances is now in custody after allegedly setting off a rash of arson fires throughout the area.

On Wednesday, Jamestown police identified 19-year-old Jonathan H. Young as the suspected arsonist behind 12 separate fires last month that involved vacant and occupied buildings in both Jamestown and Falconer, including the devastating March 22 blaze that ripped through a West Main Street building in Falconer.

Police said Young reportedly acted alone. A motive has not been disclosed.

According to a report from the Butler Eagle newspaper, Young was taken into custody on March 28 in Slippery Rock, Pa., after allegedly breaking into a vacant house and setting it on fire.

Young had no identification at the time and was booked under the name “John Doe” at Butler County Prison in lieu of $75,000 bail, the report said.

Jonathan Young

The prison contacted the Jamestown Police Department on Monday, notifying them of an arson suspect in custody believed to be from the Jamestown area. His true identity was unknown at the time because he reportedly gave several false identities. Jamestown police traveled to Butler County, Pa. on Tuesday to meet with investigators from the Pennsylvania State Police.

Harry Snellings, Jamestown police chief, said Young had already been reported missing and was a suspect after two fires broke out within 24 hours of each other at 621 E. Sixth St. on March 2. He said “several pieces of evidence” linked Young to the arson attacks and that a surveillance video released March 30 showing Young near a 441 Winsor St. fire likely “motivated” the teen to leave the area.

“This (case) was a priority … and it got our sole attention,” said Snellings, at a Wednesday press conference in Jamestown City Hall. “I can definitely say it’s a relief (to have Young in custody). This has been on our minds (for weeks) and we’re happy that the fires have come to a conclusion and we’re continuing with the investigation.”

Pennsylvania State Police are investigating any additional fires that may have been set between Butler County, Pa., and the Jamestown area.

Young’s targets included an occupied apartment at 621 E. Sixth St. on March 2; a vacant apartment at the same location later that same day; an abandoned home at 2840 Woodlawn Ave. on March 6; an abandoned garage at the same location on March 12; a condemned home at 441 Winsor St. on March 22; an occupied building at 29 to 39 W. Main St. in Falconer on March 22; a condemned apartment at 621 E. Sixth St. on March 23; a condemned home at 650 E. Sixth St. on March 24; a condemned home at 220 Crossman St. on March 25; a debris pile near a home at 30 W. 11th St. on March 25; a condemned home at 22 W. 11th St.; and a condemned home at 33 W. 10th St. on March 25.

The residence at 621 E. Sixth St., Jamestown, gutted by multiple fires in March. P-J photo by Dennis Philips

Young faces charges of two counts of second-degree arson, a class B felony; nine counts of third-degree arson, a class C felony; and one count of fifth-degree arson, a class A misdemeanor. All charges will be handled via arrest warrants through the Jamestown City Court and the Ellicott Town Court. Young is currently being held in Butler County on multiple felony charges from the state of Pennsylvania that include arson, burglary and motor-vehicle theft.

According to Patrick Swanson, Chautauqua County district attorney, Young could face a potential 5 to 25 years in prison for each of his second-degree arson charges. The additional charges would collectively add a “substantial” amount of jail time, he said.

“He’s in custody in (Butler County Prison) … and if he bails out, we do have felony complaints filed and there would be a detainor where he would be brought here to be arraigned,” Swanson said. “If he does not bail out, Pennsylvania will have first crack at prosecuting the case.”

Swanson said it is unlikely federal charges will be filed at this time.

Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi didn’t mince words Wednesday, describing the fires as a “crime against human beings” that jeopardizes neighbors, first responders and other city officials.

The aftermath of the downtown fire in Falconer on March 22. P-J photo by A.J. Rao

“Arson is not merely a property crime … there’s collateral damage,” he said. “It is also not a form of helpful urban renewal for those trying to redevelop a community. Most folks don’t realize that when a building has been damaged by fire, it makes it more difficult and expensive to deal with the cleanup and reuse of the property.”

Teresi said fighting and preventing arsons are a priority for his administration and the entire city government.

“This has got to stop,” he said. “Our goal is to not simply identify a suspect and press charges, but to obtain convictions and to make sure they’re held responsible for their actions.”

Teresi, along with Falconer Mayor James Rensel, acknowledged the hard work of first responders and emergency personnel, both in the city and neighboring communities, who helped maintain the public’s safety last month.

No injuries were sustained in the fires.

The scene of East Sixth Street in Jamestown on March 24, where several fires broke out in a 48-hour span. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

Young, a student at Jamestown Community College, was last year’s winner of “Chautauqua’s Got Talent” and recently appeared on stage at this year’s competition on March 20. According to Young’s Facebook page, friends began showing concern over his whereabouts beginning April 2.

One source told The Post-Journal that Young was appearing in the Little Theater’s production of “Rapunzel,” until he disappeared before the second weekend of the show and had to be replaced. Young also appeared in an adaptation of Steven Dietz’ “Paragon Springs,” with the Jamestown Community College Uncommoners theater group last month.

The Jamestown and Ellicott police departments, Jamestown Fire Department and the Chautauqua County Fire Investigation Team were involved in the 12 arson investigations.

A garage fire on Fifth Street in late March and an arson fire at 206 Charles St. on Tuesday were not linked to Young. Police are still investigating and anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Tips Line at 483-TIPS (8477) or via the JPD Tips 411 App.