By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
Portsmouth Fire Chief Bill Raison said the questioning of about seven or eight juveniles, 15 years of age and younger, might have solved some 15 arson fires that plagued the area earlier this year.
A source — who asked not to be identified — says several children, with their parents present, have already confessed to breaking and entering and setting some of the fires that kept firefighters busy throughout March. Some of those children are already on probation from Juvenile Court, the source said.
One, a 14-year-old boy, is being held on unrelated charges, the source said. Juvenile probation officers were apparently instrumental in the investigation after hearing some of the children talking about the fires.
“We’re putting together a packet right now to take to the (Scioto County) Prosecutor’s Office, and I think we’ve cleared 15 fires out of this investigation,” Raison said. “We haven’t arrested anyone yet. Scott Smith, the prosecutor for the Juvenile Court, is going to take it, review it, and decide what the appropriate charges are. There are five to seven juveniles involved, so what we are trying to do now is sort through it all, because everyone tells a slightly different story. So right now we’re sorting out who is telling us the truth and where the charges are all going to land in the end.”
A March 28 fire at 118 Glover St., which threatened the lives of people living next door at 120 Glover St., was the latest in a string of arson fires. That brought to 17 the number of set fires since the year began.
The Division of State Fire Marshal and Portsmouth Fire Department posted Blue Ribbon Arson Reward signs in March at 18 fire scenes in Portsmouth. A reward of up to $5,000 was offered by the Blue Ribbon Arson Committee for information leading to the identification of the person or people responsible for any of the fires.
Six of the fires occurred in one week. Nine of the fires occurred on Sixth or Seventh streets. Three of the fires occurred on 16th and 17th streets. One fire each occurred on Waller Street, Coles Boulevard, Boundary Street, Robinson Avenue, Glover Street and Ninth Street. It is not known which of these fires might have involved the juveniles being charged.
Some of the boys and girls involved are suspected of breaking into the houses, while others are suspected of setting the fires. Raison said the suspicion of the juveniles involved was a result of the interview process.
“We have an ongoing investigation, and that is interviewing witnesses and identifying suspects, then bringing those people in and interviewing them,” Raison said. “So we’re putting the packet together right now to give to him (Smith). He will review each individual involved and the evidence that we have against each of those individuals, and then he will determine the appropriate charges to file.”
Detectives from the Portsmouth Police Department will be involved in the related charges such as breaking and entering.
“The charges haven’t been presented, but when they are, I’ll make a proper review of the investigation as it is received by us, and file the appropriate charges and go from there,” Smith said.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at email@example.com.