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Red Hill Man Faces Arson Charges
Written by Bradley Schlegel

            A Red Hill man faces multiple arson charges following a series of fires in the borough Sunday. Lance Utley, 47, of Jefferson Street, is accused of setting fires at Redner's Warehouse Market, 58 E. Sixth St., and the Hope Valley Community 

Church, 501 Graber Alley, as well as to another vehicle parked in the 200 block of W. Third Street. Police also discovered that Utley had poured gasoline in mulch outside of the BB&T bank earlier this month.

            At approximately 3:30 a.m. Sept. 10, Redner's employees alerted emergency responders to a fire at the back of the business. Investigators discovered a burned area at the rear of the business near the air conditioning condensers, according to the affidavit of probable cause. Burn and liquid pour patterns on the ground and wall were indicative of an ignitable liquid poured in the area of a large air conditioning duct, police said.

            The blaze at the market melted a small amount of exterior down spouting, according to Michael Eshbach, chief of the Red Hill Volunteer Fire Company. He said store employees contained the fire.

            Utley also allegedly attempted to set a 2001 blue Honda Civic on fire along W. Third around 8 a.m. According to police, authorities received the report of a suspicious vehicle leaving the scene of the car fire. Fire investigators determined that burning combustibles had been intentionally placed in the car's gasoline fill pipe.

            A witness tailed the suspect's White Dodge Nitro to the church, and a short time later, state police and the Red Hill Fire Department were called to a large fire at the rear of the church, which spread to interior hallways, according to the affidavit.

            The fire caused extensive damage to a doorway and smoke damage permeated the building's first floor, Eshbach said. The blaze at the church, set in a bin near a double door outside of thrift shop operated by the church, caused at least $100,000 worth of damage, according to John Lehr, Red Hill's fire marshal.

            Lehr added that a day care and a church inside the building absorbed some smoke damage but avoided any heat or water damage.

The building was empty at the time of the blaze, according to the fire chief. He said multiple fire police and fire companies responded to the scene. They included fire fighters from Red Hill, Pennsburg, East Greenville, Souderton and Green Lane from Montgomery County and Trumbauersville, Milford and Quakertown from Bucks County. Ambulances were dispatched from Upper Perk and Harleysville.

Lehr, Trooper John Stewart and Montgomery County Detective John Fallon determined that the blaze was intentionally set.

            The witness continued to follow Utley to Upper Milford before police took him into custody after a brief struggle.

After being subdued by two troopers on Corning Road, Utley provided a statement: "I lit a little fire, I am sorry," he said, according to the police criminal complaint filed in the Red Hill court of District Judge Catherine Hummel Fried.

            Law enforcement officials also determined that Utley was involved in a Sept. 1 incident that occurred at BB&T Bank in Red Hill that remains under investigation. He allegedly admitted to pouring gasoline in the mulch behind the bank around an air conditioning unit, according to the affidavit.

Bank employees reported the odor of gasoline at 9 a.m. Sept. 1. They told authorities a suspicious white male had been yelling at employees prior to noticing the smell. In an interview, Utley complained that he was being cheated by the bank.

Authorities charged Utley with 30 related counts. He faces 16 felony charges, four misdemeanor counts each of reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and possession of an instrument of crime and two counts of failure to control a dangerous fire.

            Utley was arraigned Sunday night by District Judge Katherine EMcGill, who set bail in the case at $250,000 monetary.

            The defendant was remanded to the Montgomery County Prison, according to the state website. A preliminary hearing in the case, before Hummel Fried, is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Sept. 22.





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