Three city men charged in fires at businesses

Posted

Saturday February 25, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Three Pittsfield men will be facing a slew of charges, including arson, breaking and entering and receiving stolen property, following an alleged crime spree that included setting fires and crashing stolen cars on Friday.

Jason Welsh, 21, of Columbus Avenue, and Steven Gratton, 24, of Appleton Avenue, are under arrest and facing a number of charges. A third man, James Ledbetter, 26, of Robbins Avenue, was in Berkshire Medical Center on Friday night with a leg injury and will be charged later.

The men set four separate fires in two businesses at 501 Dalton Ave., and almost immediately afterward, they had crashed two stolen vehicles, according to police.

The Pittsfield Fire Department responded to a fire alarm from 501 Dalton Ave. at approximately 5:50 a.m. on Friday.

Two minutes later, police responded to an accident on Brighton Avenue near Elberon Avenue when a pickup truck crashed into a backyard and damaged a house. Police say they found Welsh wandering on New York Avenue, bleeding from his forehead. He was taken to BMC where he remained Friday evening. He was arrested and is facing charges that include three counts of receiving stolen property, as well as other charges related to the accident.

A little more than 30 minutes after that, police responded to an accident on Holmes Road in which a Subaru Legacy crashed into a tree. Gratton and Ledbetter were in the car.

Police say they were able to connect the men to the arsons, as well as the thefts of four vehicles and a number of vehicle break-ins.

Three separate fires were allegedly set at Jay's Custom Muffler & Auto and another at Castine Moving & Storage at 501 Dalton Ave. The building houses multiple businesses, including Jay's, Castine, a Salvation Army retail store, Casey's Billiards, and West Mountain Property Maintenance.

Police Detective Capt. Patrick F. Barry said all three men will eventually be facing arson, breaking and entering and other charges.

The men are scheduled to be arraigned Monday morning in Central Berkshire District Court.

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Deputy Fire Chief Mark Cancilla said that the fire apparently started in an office of Castine Moving, which is located in the rear of the building along with Jay's automotive business.

Upon arriving to the scene, Pittsfield firefighters found that the sprinkler system had been activated, which kept the fire in check. The fire was put out in about 20 minutes. No one was injured.

Deputy Fire Chief Michael Polidoro said the incident at 501 Dalton Ave. resulted in an estimated $20,000 to $25,000 in damage to the entire complex due to smoke, water and other effects of the fire.

While there, investigators from the Pittsfield Police Department found signs of vandalism, including windows and a mailbox that had been smashed open in the Castine and Jay's auto businesses.

The phone line to Jay's Custom Muffler & Auto carried a busy signal all day. A representative from Castine Moving was reached by The Eagle on Friday, but the person declined to make any comment regarding the incident.

The Salvation Army, Jay's, Castine and West Mountain Property businesses were closed on Friday due to smoke and water damage. Casey's Billiards was able to reopen on Friday night, after ServiceMaster provided an ozone treatment. The city health inspector approved the air quality and food and bar service areas to be open.

"It's scary, what's been going on with the businesses around here," said Carol Donahue, who has operated Casey's for the past six and a half years.

"We were very fortunate this time. If I had to shut down for business, it would be very financially damaging," she said.

Back in August, Casey's was broken into and its ATM machine stolen. The entire ordeal was caught on one of the building's outdoor surveillance cameras.

Donahue said rear of the building, where Friday's incidents occurred, is also outfitted with cameras.

Charlie O'Neill, Donahue's boyfriend, was also on the scene on Friday to clean up the pool hall. He said the rear of the building had previously been vandalized and prowled by people searching for scrap metal.


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