Arrests made in area arsons

| October 8, 2009

Two suspects from East Meredith were charged with arson Wednesday in connection with the fire that destroyed a church in Sidney Center last week, Delaware County deputies said.

Donald J. Aitken, 21, and Cody D. Fancher, 17, were in custody pending arraignment, Undersheriff Douglas Vredenburgh said late Wednesday night. The investigation into the multiple fires throughout the county continues, he said, and “other people” may be arrested.

The Sidney Center United Methodist Church on Main Street and a barn on Road Thirteen in the Sidney Center fire district were set afire early last Thursday.

A Delaware County Sheriff’s Department arson task force already had been formed to investigate eight suspicious building fires and incidents of vandalism involving arson.

Aitken and Fancher were accused Wednesday of arson in six fires in Delaware County since April, Vredenburgh said, and they also are accused in three acts of vandalism at the gravel banks in Delhi on Sept. 11. Specific charges related to each fire are being determined, the undersheriff said.

Vredenburgh said the men were arrested at their residences Wednesday afternoon without incident. Aitken, of Hotaling Hollow Road, is a farmhand, Vredenburgh said, and Fancher, of Bachler Road, is unemployed.

Vredenburgh said the arrests were the result of “good, old-fashioned police work.” He refused to be more specific about how suspects were identified or details about the fires because the investigation is ongoing.

“We’re not prepared to say what their motive was,” Vredenburgh said. However, the motive didn’t include monetary gain or as a way to cover up other crimes, he said.

At 10 p.m. Wednesday, authorities were trying to find a judge for arraignments, Vredenburgh said. State police and the Delaware County Office of Emergency Services have provided “great cooperation” in the investigation, he said, and troopers assisted in the arrests.

A firefighter battling the blaze at the Sidney Center barn suffered a minor injury, Vredenburgh said, but no other injuries were reported in connection with the fires.

Vredenburgh said Aitken and Fancher are charged in fires and incidents listed below:

April 16, 11:15 p.m., seasonal residence on Chambers Hollow in Hamden.

June 19, 1:08 a.m., house on state Route 28 in Meridale.

Sept. 11, 2:35 a.m., seasonal residence on Scotch Hill Road off Webster Brook Road in Kortright.

Sept. 11, 4:09 a.m., Elk Creek Road in Meredith.

Vredenburgh said previously the fires had been clustered in an area to the south and east of Delhi until the Sidney Center incidents Thursday. The previous fires had all involved uninhabited residences in isolated rural areas, so the arson at the church in a hamlet was unexpected, he said.

Edna and Robert Pomeroy, members of the Sidney Center United Methodist Church, said they were pleased to hear that arrests had been made. There are some unoccupied, boarded up buildings nearby, they said, and residents worried other fires might be started.

“People have been scared to go to bed at night,” she said Wednesday night. She said the church has about 150 members, with about 35 to 40 attending services regularly.

Robert Pomeroy, a church trustee, said he had confidence in the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department and “it was just a matter of time” before arrests were made.

Insurance adjusters still are reviewing the case, he said, and the church had a valuable organ and old stained-glass windows that were destroyed.

The Pomeroys, who said the church was visible from their home, asked why anyone would set fire to a church, but they were cautious about blame.

“You’re innocent ’til proven guilty,” Robert Pomeroy said. “Every night, you say your prayers and ask the Lord to give you strength to forgive the ones who did it.”

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Category: Church Security

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