COAL TOWNSHIP — A former Coal Township couple is in jail after being charged Tuesday with burning down their home in March on the same day they put the residence up for sale and two months after insuring it for $140,000.
Brett J. Stahl Sr., 27, and Jennifer N. Stahl, 35, formerly of 950 W. Pine St., and now of Haven Ministries in Sunbury, are charged by Detective Matthew Hashuga with multiple counts of arson and related offenses in connection with the March 20 blaze that destroyed their residence and placed firefighters at risk of injury.
The couple was arraigned late Tuesday morning by Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III and committed to Northumberland County Jail in lieu of $75,000 cash bail each. They are scheduled for preliminary hearings Tuesday, June 18.
Footage from a security camera angled directly toward the Stahl home, on the southwest corner of Pine and Maple streets, was obtained by police from a neighbor, according to an affidavit of probable cause. The camera captured all points of entry into the home and also showed the fire suddenly starting and spreading rapidly on the first floor.
Police said the video shows Brett and Jennifer Stahl as the last people to be inside the home, 39 minutes prior to the fire starting.
According to Hashuga, the video shows the Stahls arrived at the home at 3:10 p.m. March 20 and left at 3:21 p.m., before returning at 5:20 p.m. Hashuga said the Stahls remained inside the residence for about one hour and 40 minutes, before leaving at 7 p.m.
The detective said the fire ignited at 7:39 p.m. and was reported as a working structure fire by a neighbor to Northumberland County Communications Center at 7:44 p.m.
Hashuga said it took several hours for firefighters from Coal Township and neighboring communities to bring the fire under control.
State Police Fire Marshal Kirk Renn, who was requested to assist township fire officials in the investigation, used a hydrocarbon detector that revealed “alerts” in several locations near the southwest entrance of the home and the floor in the living and dining rooms, where the fire originated.
Renn collected multiple samples from the home that were sent to the Pennsylvania State Police Lab in Harrisburg to be tested for combustible fluids and trace evidence.
On May 13, Hashuga received the test results. The lab revealed an accelerant known as medium petroleum distillate was found on a sample of charred wood.
Renn then ruled the fire was incendiary in nature, with the probable cause being someone pouring a combustible liquid onto the floor in the living and dining rooms and, possibly, the front porch.
Greg Klebon, an agent with State Farm Insurance, told police Brett Stahl had his home at 950 W. Pine St. insured in January for $140,000 and its contents for $70,000.
He also said Stahl put in a claim for $2,000 for living expenses as a result of the fire. Klebon said the house was listed for sale on the day of the fire through Berkshire Hathaway Realty.
At the time of the fire, the Stahls were not employed. Andrea Fury, a claims specialist from State Farm Insurance, said a review of their bank records showed they had only $92 in their account at the time of the fire.
Police said Brett Stahl purchased the property at 950 W. Pine St. on July 24, 2018, from Emily May Anderson for $10,000.
Jennifer Stahl told police that, on the evening of the fire, she and her husband and their two children left the home between 6 and 7 p.m. and went shopping at Walmart in Selinsgrove while also looking for rental properties in that area.
Stahl said they were on their way home when she received a call from a friend alerting her to a fire in her block. Stahl said she didn’t know it was her home on fire until receiving several more calls.
Jennifer Stahl couldn’t explain how the fire started, Hashuga said.
Brett Stahl told Hashuga his children got home from Shamokin Area Elementary School at about 3 p.m. on the day of the fire and they all went to a park in Trevorton for a short time.
Stahl said the family came back to the home to use the bathroom before leaving between 6 and 7 p.m. and going to Walmart in Selinsgrove. He said the family then got something to eat at Walmart before driving around looking for rental properties.
Stahl told Hashuga that his wife has other children who live in the Selinsgrove area and that she wanted to be closer to them, which was the reason they were selling the house on Pine Street.
Stahl said he hasn’t been back to the Coal Township residence since the night of the fire.
Prior to leaving the house on March 20, Stahl said he didn’t remember anything unusual or out of place and said he had no idea how the fire started.
Stahl also said he knew the house was insured through State Farm in Shamokin but claimed he didn’t know how much it was insured for.
The Stahls are charged with three felony counts of arson, four felony counts of criminal conspiracy, a misdemeanor of criminal conspiracy, a felony of causing or risking a catastrophe and a misdemeanor of recklessly endangering another person.
Their two children are staying with their maternal grandfather.