Pittsfield man gets prison time for 'night of mayhem'


PITTSFIELD -- One of three men accused in a ‘night of mayhem' last winter that included setting fires and crashing stolen cars was sentenced on Tuesday to up to eight years in state prison.

Jason E. Welsh, 22, pleaded guilty in Berkshire Superior Court to 33 charges, including breaking and entering, attempting to burn a building, malicious destruction of property and larceny of a motor vehicle, among other charges, in connection with the February 2012 incident.

"It was a night of mayhem at the hands of these three men," Second Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Robert W. Kinzer III told the court.

Welsh, along with Steven Gratton and James Ledbetter, are accused of causing more than a half-million dollars worth of damage in the span of a few hours in the early morning of Feb. 24, 2012. The cases against Gratton, 24, and Ledbetter, 27, are pending.

Welsh admitted to his role in the crime spree, which began after the men allegedly met up at a house party and decided to drive around in a stolen car and smoke marijuana.

Kinzer said the men broke into adjoining businesses at 501 Dalton Ave., in Pittsfield, stole multiple items from inside, crashed cars into one another, broke into others, and then did the same at an auto wrecking business in Cheshire.

There, the men spilled two large diesel fuel drums that the state Department of Environmental Protection had to clean up at the cost of more than $100,000, according to police and prosecutors.

Back at 501 Dalton Ave., the men then attempted to set fire to two businesses located there, Jay's Custom Muffler & Auto and Castine Moving & Storage, before leaving in two separate stolen vehicles.

"These ‘master criminals' then managed to get into simultaneous accidents," Kinzer said.

Welsh crashed a pick-up into a home on Brighton Avenue, destroying the deck, shearing off some of the home's siding and wrecking a van parked in the driveway.

Welsh, said Kinzer, was located nearby "bleeding from his forehead and stumbling down the street."

A little more than 30 minutes later, police responded to an accident on Holmes Road in which a Subaru Legacy crashed into a tree. Ledbetter was in the car and Gratton was located close by, according to a police report.

All told, the damage was about $572,000, said the prosecutor.

The fire at the building in Pittsfield, which houses five businesses, including a Salvation Army retail store, caused smoke and water damage and many of the businesses had to temporary close.

"Their crime spree touched dozens of lives," the prosecutor told the court on Tuesday.

Kinzer said these were serious crimes and required a serious sentence.

He asked for between seven and nine years in state prison.

Welsh's attorney, Michelle Mechta, said her client was there to take responsibility for what happened that morning and wasn't minimizing his actions.

She said he had learning difficulties, suffered from a mental illness and grew up in an abusive home.

According to the attorney, her client was "easily manipulated," was a "follower," and wasn't "the ringleader" of the spree.

She asked for a five-year sentence to be served at the county jail followed by four years of probation.

Judge Daniel A. Ford sentenced Welsh to a minimum of five years and a maximum of eight years at the Massachusetts Correctional Facility at Cedar Junction.

The case was investigated by the Pittsfield and Cheshire police departments.

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