Investigators: Seven Arsons Within One Hour
WEST HAZLETON — UPDATE — 10:30 P.M.
49-year old Lawrence Ustonofski of West Hazleton was silent as he was led into his arraignment just before 9:00 p.m. Monday night.
Ustonofski is charged with numerous charges of arson and criminal mischief after police say he went on an early morning spree, setting at least seven fires in Hazleton in about one hour’s time, just before 7:00 a.m. Monday morning.
According to the criminal complaint, police say the first fire Ustonofski set was to two vending machines at Hazleton General Hospital.
Ustonofski told detectives he was being treated at the hospital and after he was released, he went to the vending machines but realized he had no money.
He told police he remembered putting newspaper in one machine and paper cups in another.
At the arraignment, Ustonofski told the judge he is on prescription medication for bi-polar disorder and other ailments.
Police say Ustonofski admitted to them he set the fires using a lighter, police say they found two lighters on Ustonofski.
Ustonofski was taken to the Luzerne County Prison after bail was set at $100,000.
He has a preliminary hearing set for next week.
Polce say Lawrence Ustenofski of West Hazleton is responsible for setting seven fires at five different locations, all in Hazleton and all within about an hour.
One of them was to a sign in front of a furniture and appliance store on South Vine Street in Hazleton. The sign is for a grocery store and is on land leased by Tom Brooks. The flames did not affect his business.
“This building is built like a Sherman tank. This was the Lehigh valley freight station and this building is built with concrete ceilings this is all it`s all brick, this building is built really, really well,” said Brooks, who owns Grand Central Furniture & Appliances.
Police said before the arsonist hit the sign he was busy setting fire to vending machines in the lobby of Hazleton General Hospital.
The flames were quickly put out and the facility was not evacuated. Fire officials said had the blaze spread, it could have been catastrophic.
“The hospital you have 500 residents in the hospital between employees and residents in the hospital, if you had a fire in the lobby it`s a main entrance of the hospital you could have a real problem there,” Deputy Chief Shawn Jones Hazleton Fire Dept.
Police said the arsonist then burned signs outside a fast food restaurant and smashed a window there.
Investigators said his next target: a construction company a few blocks away.
“Then this guy came out of the garage, red top and white shorts, I couldn’t see his face and then he ran in back of the garage and disappeared.” said John Manganelli, of Tamaqua.
Fire investigators said the arsonist then set some tires on fire near a shopping center, and that`s where he was taken into custody.