HOMER CITY — An Indiana County magistrate held for trial one of two volunteer firefighters suspected in three arson cases, while the other waived charges in those cases to Common Pleas Court.
Dylan Charles Dalessio, 19, of Plumville, and Nicholas Peter Leone, 23, of Creekside, are charged in a pair of December fires in Washington Township as well as a January blaze in North Mahoning Township.
Leone waived charges before Homer City Magisterial District Judge Susanne V. Steffee in a two-hour hearing Tuesday afternoon. Leone was then interviewed by investigators, and information he gave them was used in the grounds for Dalessio to be held for trial.
“He sat in the front seat with Mr. Dalessio,” federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Senior Special Agent David Farabaugh testified about one of the fires. “Mr. Dalessio had thrown a glass container (filled with a substance believed to be gasoline) through a window.”
Dalessio’s Pittsburgh defense attorney Alexander J. Jamiolkowski thought it was hearsay and grounds for dismissal.
“That is the only evidence you have?” he asked toward the end of an exchange with Punxsutawney-based state police Fire Marshal Russell D. Stewart. “I move to have the charges at this time dismissed.”
Steffee didn’t go along, and Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty said after the hearing that there will be more evidence offered at trial.
“There was other information,” the district attorney said during a redirect round of questioning of Greensburg-based state police Fire Marshal Chet G. Bell, the arresting officer in the two December cases.
Jamiolkowski objected, saying Dougherty was leading the witness, but the county prosecutor retorted, “it is redirect,” and Steffee allowed his line of questioning.
Two victims of the rural Indiana County arsons also testified.
“We received a call from a neighbor down the street, who told us the barn had been burned down to the ground,” Tammy Stewart testified about the Dec. 21, 2018, fire that destroyed a barn along Route 954 outside Creekside, in Washington Township.
That fire caused $22,000 in damage, Stewart testified.
A month later, more went up in flames in North Mahoning Township.
“I had seen it glowing inside,” Roman Byler testified about the fire he discovered at 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 25, as he and his wife rode their buggy to their Amish furniture store at 2130 Stephenson Road.
“I went inside, I got the fire extinguisher,” Byler continued. “There were two fires. I put one out then one exploded, and I ran out of (chemicals in) the extinguisher.”
Dougherty asked Byler about the amount of damage (he said $74,000), if he had rebuilt (he said he had) and whether he had seen anyone (he said he hadn’t).
Jamiolkowski asked Byler if he had seen any vehicles.
“No,” Byler responded.
The third fire, on Dec. 29, destroyed a garage and shed along Bailey Road in Washington Township. According to a report prepared by Trooper David Vinkler, the fire began near the front of one of the vehicles parked in the shed.
Bell testified that Leone’s statement, recorded with audio and video equipment, was consistent with Vinkler’s findings.
Dalessio’s defense attorney said his client was a hero on Dec. 29.
“Dylan was the one who went in to rescue the cars,” Jamiolkowski said.
As for the Dec. 21 fire, the defense attorney had texts that indicated that his client slept through it.
“Nice of you to wake up, sunshine,” Jamiolkowski said, quoting a text he attributed to Leone at 7:35 a.m., several hours after that fire was telephoned in to Indiana County Emergency Management.
All three fires are among those for which a $10,000 reward for information was offered by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Pennsylvania CrimeStoppers.
Other blazes occurred in Dayton, Armstrong County, as well as East Mahoning Township, Smicksburg and Creekside. No other charges were filed Tuesday in those cases.
In addition to state police fire marshals and ATF, others involved in the investigation include Dougherty’s office, the federal Department of Homeland Security and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Dalessio sat with his hands cuffed behind his back and shackles on his legs in Steffee’s courtroom.
He previously posted $250,000 bond for the case of the furniture store blaze, but he was returned to the Indiana County Jail in lieu of $50,000 apiece in the other cases.
Leone had been held in the county jail in lieu of $250,000 bond in the furniture store case, but Dougherty agreed to reduce that bond to $50,000. Leone also is being held on $50,000 bond in each of the other cases.