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Michelle Rhoads, front, and Misty Dunbar, back right, are escorted to their arraignments by law enforcement officers on Wednesday evening.

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Two women charged with attempted murder and arson for setting Mount Carmel fire

MOUNT CARMEL — A day after fire gutted two homes in the 400 block of North Walnut Street and left three people homeless, police arrested two 23-year-old women who allegedly used kerosene to set the blaze.

Misty Lynn Dunbar, a recent resident of Mount Carmel who currently lists her address as 4173 State Route 225, Elizabethville, and Michelle Renee Rhoads, of 419 S. Hickory St., Mount Carmel, are imprisoned at Northumberland County Jail after being charged with 13 offenses each — including attempted murder, eight counts of arson and one count of criminal mischief, causing or risking a catastrophe, recklessly endangering another person and loitering and prowling at night.

Due to the severity of the attempted murder charge, they were denied bail by Magisterial District Judge William Cole at their arraignment at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

They were taken into custody at separate residences in the borough Wednesday morning.

Chief of Police Chris Buhay and Patrolman Justin Stelma filed the charges against Dunbar. Stelma and Cpl. William Adamski filed the charges against Rhoads.

According to a criminal complaint, neighbors provided police with video footage of the fire that revealed two females walking in the 400 block of North Walnut Street at 5:23 a.m. Tuesday, which was about 37 minutes before the fire was reported.

Police said the two females were walking in the direction of the residence of Kelly Witmer, 37, and Jason Dillow, 35, of 434 N. Walnut St., where the fire started on a south side exterior wall. Police reported the two females were seen running away from the area several minutes later.

A flash, which is consistent with the quick ignition of a fire, was observed on the video coming from the Dillow residence, police said.

Fire investigators, including Buhay, borough fire Chiefs James Reed, Jack Williams Jr., John Janolek and state police Fire Marshal James Nizinski conducted an investigation into the two-alarm blaze that revealed the fire started in the area of a side porch and side door.

Though fire officials initially listed the cause as undetermined, Nizinski later ruled it was incendiary in nature.

On Tuesday, police received information from Angela Koreisl that she had information that the fire was intentionally set.

Koreisl came to the police station under her own free will and told police she was at the Sons of Poland with Dunbar and Rhoads on Monday night into Tuesday morning. After the club closed, Koreisl said all three women went to her residence.

Koreisl said Dunbar and Rhoads told her they were going to go to Dillow’s residence to assault Witmer, who is known to them. Koreisl told police Dunbar and Rhoads returned to her residence at about 6:20 a.m.

When asked by Koreisl what took them so long to return to her home, Dunbar told her that she and Rhoads had done something “life changing.”

When Koreisl asked Dunbar what she meant, she responded, “Didn’t you hear the sirens?” According to Koreisl, Dunbar then told her she and Rhoads set Dillow’s house on fire.

According to police, Koreisl said Dunbar and Rhoads initially tried to set a tree, leaves and grass on fire but were unsuccessful. Koreisl said the two women then found a bottle of gasoline under the side porch area, dumped it on the porch and set it on fire before fleeing the scene when the fire became intense.

On Wednesday, Rhoads agreed to talk with police at the police station after being advised of her Miranda rights. She denied having any knowledge of the fire and claimed she had no contact with anyone for almost two days.

Dunbar admitted setting the fire at Dillow’s residence while Rhoads served as a lookout. Dunbar claimed she used a lighter to ignite a fire on the side porch and then found a kerosene can under the porch and dumped the kerosene on the side porch.

The two-alarm blaze caused extensive damage to 434 and 432 N. Walnut St. and minor heat damage to 438 N. Walnut St.

Witmer, Dillow and Edward Koblinski, 68, of 432 N. Walnut St., were left homeless.

At her arraignment, Dunbar initially refused to enter the courtroom from a holding area before facing the judge on the charges. Upon entering the courtroom, she told an officer, “This is as far as I’m going, dude.”

Dunbar also made an unflattering remark about being thrown out of a previous home.

Witmer said she just moved in with Dillow on Sunday after previously residing with Dunbar in Mount Carmel.

After the fire, Kelly Witmer said Dunbar and Rhoads, whom she claimed both watched the fire burn from a nearby mountainside, said they were sorry about her home being burned.

Jason Willow’s ex-wife, Lisa Dillow, said her children, Jason Dillow II, 9, and Gaige Dillow, 14, often stay at 434 N. Walnut St. or 438 N. Walnut St., which is inhabited by Jason Dillow’s father, John Dillow.

“I don’t understand how someone can be so irresponsible and endanger the lives of adults and children,” said Lisa Dillow. “Somebody could have been killed in the fire.”

John Dillow, who has been a borough firefighter for 42 years, was upset that anyone could endanger the lives of people by setting a fire.

But Dillow said he was very grateful to the “great job” done by firefighters, police and Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz for getting the arson solved and preventing a further catastrophe.

He added, “I am just glad nobody got hurt. These two girls (Dunbar and Rhoads) will pay the price.”

After the arraignment, Matulewicz commended Buhay and his officers for quickly solving the case and establishing enough evidence to charge both women with attempted murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment and $25,000 fine.

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Man held for court for allegedly raping relative

MOUNT CARMEL — A 22-year-old Mount Carmel man accused of raping an adult relative four times between Feb. 11 and Feb. 18 at his home was held for court Wednesday at a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge William Cole.

Cole ruled enough evidence was presented by Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz and arresting officer Lt. David Donkochik to hold Patrick Gurdak, of 34 W. Fifth St., for court on multiple felonies, including rape and incest.

Donkochik, who was the lone witness to testify, said the victim told him Gurdak raped her four times and forced her to have oral sex. He said the victim didn’t report the alleged crimes right away because she was afraid Gurdak was going to hurt or kill her since he had previously assaulted her.

Donkochik said Gurdak also attempted to lure his brother into participating in a “threesome” with the victim, but he said Gurdak’s sibling didn’t want anything to do with it.

The lieutenant said Gurdak also ordered the victim to take a shower after the rapes to avoid leaving physical evidence.

He said Gurdak declined an interview with police and invoked his right to an attorney.

In addition to rape and incest, Gurdak is charged with felonies of sexual assault and criminal solicitation and a misdemeanor of indecent assault by forcible compulsion.

After Cole sent the charges to Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas, Matulewicz described the allegations against the defendant as “horrendous” and called the case one of the most “bizarre” he’s prosecuted during his nearly four years as district attorney.

Gurdak remains incarcerated in Northumberland County Jail in lieu of $200,000 cash bail.

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Borough man held for court for indecent assault

MOUNT CARMEL — A 31-year-old Mount Carmel man was held for court Wednesday on a felony of criminal attempt to commit aggravated indecent assault and misdemeanors of indecent assault and corruption of minors relating to July 14 incidents at his home involving a 14-year-old female relative.

Ronald Roy Wickizer Jr., of South Orange Street, was ordered by Magisterial District Judge William Cole to appear for a status conference on the charges in Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas.

Cole’s ruling followed on a 45-minute preliminary hearing that included testimony by Lt. David Donkochik and other evidence presented by Northumberland County District Attorney Tony Matulewicz.

Wickizer, who was represented by public defender John Broda, remains in Northumberland County Jail in lieu of $50,000 cash bail.

According to Donkochik, the victim said she was sleeping over at Wickizer’s residence when she went into the defendant’s bedroom to charge her phone. The officer said the victim told him Wickizer and his girlfriend were sleeping when she entered the room.

Donkochik testified that the 14-year-old girl told him Wickizer then woke up and indecently assaulted her.

Police said Wickizer is accused of placing his hand up the teen’s shirt and down her pants. He also is accused of rubbing the victim’s vaginal area, trying to put his fingers into her vagina and kissing her on the neck.

Donkochik testified that the victim told police Wickizer at one point began using her hand to rub his penis until he ejaculated onto her hand and his hand.

The lieutenant said police are still awaiting the results of lab tests conducted on a rape kit and the victim’s clothing.

He said Wickizer refused to be interviewed and invoked his right to an attorney.

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Parea granted third extension in land purchase

SUNBURY — Parea BioSciences was granted its third extension in the purchasing of 10 acres of land near the Northumberland County Jail for a medical marijuana grow facility during a county commissioner meeting Wednesday.

Parea BioSciences, through its holding company MNK 03 Holdings LLC, now has until Sept. 30 to finalize the $1.5 million purchase. The company paid the county an additional $10,000 deposit on the extension.

The extension was approved in a 2-1 vote, with Commissioner Kymberley Best voting against it.

Best released a statement Wednesday explaining her decision, stating she has “continually opposed the scheme of the majority commissioners to put a marijuana-growing facility on the Northumberland County South Campus” because federal law prohibits growing of marijuana on publicly owned land and because she doesn’t believe a grow facility should be located near the county prison, a juvenile facility and a drug rehabilitation center.

Additionally, Best said private discussions were held regarding the opening of a public road, which she believes can lead to a 2-mill tax increase.

Under the new extension, Best said the company will be permitted to occupy the premises prior to closing, but said she doesn’t have confidence they will have the money by Sept. 30 due to a “history of inability to pay.”

Best claims the extension would allow Parea, through MNK 03 Holdings LLC, to remain in possession of the property by paying $500 a day, or $15,000 a month, creating a “de facto lease” that will keep the property off of the tax rolls, causing the county, Coal Township and the Shamokin Area School District to lose out on real estate tax revenue.

Commissioner Chairman Rick Shoch said Best’s press release contains “numerous lies where she is now misstating actual facts.”

The $500 per day would be an imposed penalty on the company should it occupy the land after Sept. 30 without closing on the property, he said. The penalty would be imposed daily until the county receives an authorized court order of ejectment.

Commissioner Sam Schiccatano also addressed Best’s statement to the media, stating there will be no 2-mill tax increase for the public use of the road leading to the prison.

The commissioners were told by Parea BioSciences that it is not out of the ordinary for grow companies to receive extensions on the sale of land due to numerous reasons.

He said Best’s concerns in her statement were not provided to the majority commissioners, making it difficult for them to follow up with Parea.

The majority commissioners said the reason for the newest extension is related to holdups on zoning issues, some of which were the result of a lawsuit filed by Best in September, alleging a petition to declare a road to the prison public was done in violation of the Sunshine Act. Best dropped the lawsuit at the October meeting when a motion was made to file the petition.

Shoch said a $10,000 check is given to the county every time an extension is given that the company will forfeit if the property falls through.

Schiccatano said he hopes when the sale goes through, the county is able to use a portion of the money to finance the purchasing of new voting machines required by the state. He said he is looking into whether that is a possibility to save expense to the taxpayers.

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Strong man charged with assaulting 5-month-old son

STRONG — An 18-year-old Strong man was charged Wednesday with assaulting his 5-month-old son, who reportedly suffered bruising to his neck, face, inner ears, both arms and chest area.

Andre Adgerson, of 152 Second St., was arraigned by Magisterial District Judge William Cole on a felony of endangering the welfare of a child, misdemeanors of simple assault and recklessly endangering another person and a summary of harassment.

The charges filed by Mount Carmel Township Patrolman Michael Pitcavage relate to a May 8 incident at Adgerson’s home.

Adgerson is accused of subjecting his son to the injuries that required the infant to be admitted to Geisinger Medical Center, Danville.

On May 9, police were contacted by a Northumberland County Children and Youth Services employee who received a report of suspected child abuse. Police said a doctor who treated the baby said the injuries were non-accidental.

According to Children and Youth employee Alexis Young, Adgerson told his mother that he “blacked out” and didn’t remember what happened May 8 when the child was in his care.

During the course of the investigation, Pitcavage spoke with the victim’s mother, Skylynn Janoka, who had spoken to the defendant about the incident.

Janoka said Adgerson told her the baby became “fussy,” causing him to become angry before “blacking out.” She said Adgerson couldn’t remember what happened next.

She told police Adgerson has anger management issues and similar things have occurred in the past.

Janoka said Adgerson told her he knows he was responsible for the baby’s injuries.

During an interview, Pitcavage said Adgerson told him he must have caused the injuries because they didn’t occur while the baby was with his mother or Adgerson’s mother. But Adgerson said he didn’t remember how he injured the infant.

Adgerson was committed to Northumberland County Jail in lieu of $100,000 cash bail.

Bonnie Jo Mount/Washington Post  

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, seen here in May, is opposed to the Trump administration’s plans to place a shelter for unaccompanied migrant children in the District of Columbia.