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.