PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – A man accused of starting a fire that destroyed several buildings in Homestead last winter will stand trial.
Edward McDonald said nothing to reporters as he attended his preliminary hearing Wednesday, nine months after he was charged with arson.
The fire he’s charged with setting, took out five properties beginning at 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 23. Residents were displaced and injured and businesses were ruined.
Deputy Allegheny County Fire Marshal Timothy Smoley testified during the hearing that he determined the fire started in the structure at 237 East Eighth Avenue and traced it to a couch in the living room area.
He ruled out any accidental cause like an electrical problem.
Eventually, Smoley talked with McDonald, trying to find out what happened since the fire seemed to come from his apartment, but after 10 or 15 minutes, McDonald told him he had something better to do and didn’t want to stay there and talk about the fire.
Finally, Kevin Kauffman, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified McDonald told him he set the fire with Zippo lighter fluid, which he poured on a couch and lit with either matches or a lighter.
After the fire started, Kauffman testified McDonald took a walk around the neighborhood.
Kauffman says McDonald eventually showed him where he threw one of two red caps from the Zippo lighter container while he took that walk.
He told the agent he was diagnosed schizophrenic. Also, while the criminal complaint says he told investigators he heard voices that made him do it, he never offered an explanation of why it happened to agent Kauffman.
Homestead’s police chief says the community is trying to move forward.
“At the time, it was devastating and for some time after that,” said Chief Jeff DeSimone. “But, I think, if you take a look at the avenue now you can see progress is being made, not only the original fire site in January, but the second fire site we had in that same block, progress is being made moving past it; and hopefully, I’m confident that something will be put in their place sometime in the future.”
The defense attorney during cross-examination made many references to McDonald’s mental illness, but that will be an issue dealt with more in depth at trial.
District Judge Thomas Torkowsky ordered McDonald to stand trial on 14 counts of arson.
Formal arraignment is scheduled for December. A trial likely would be scheduled for next year.