The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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December 12, 2012

Suspect charged in city fire

JOHNSTOWN — A Windber man admitted to setting a fire that destroyed three buildings last month in Moxham to get back at his girlfriend’s husband, authorities said.

James Richard McDonald, 46, of the 1300 block of Cambria Avenue, was charged with two counts of arson, 34 counts of reckless endangerment, five counts of criminal mischief and one count of risking a catastrophe.

Johnstown police said McDonald fled the fire scene on Coleman Avenue but not before mumbling a few prayers and leaving behind a Bible.

The six-alarm blaze scrambled firefighters from city and suburban fire companies and left at least 13 people homeless.

In a court document, city police said the fire started in the rear of the vacant 642 Coleman Ave. residence and spread to an apartment complex and an unoccupied home that was being remodeled.

“We began investigating it as a suspicious fire immediately as soon as we were able to gather information,” police Chief Craig Foust said.

People living in the apartment complex escaped the blaze uninjured.

Police said McDonald previously had been involved with a married woman who lived in the apartment building.

Police identified McDonald from a video taken from a nearby home.

Police said McDonald told them he had planned to confront the woman’s husband, but instead set fire to a box, a mattress and a couch in the rear of the vacant house next door.

“I planned to do something bad,” McDonald said, according to police.

The woman told police McDonald had threatened her in the past.

The woman “described an incident during which McDonald had taken her to a remote location in Somerset County and threatened to kill her and leave her in the woods,” a court document said.

The woman told police McDonald has mental-health trouble and is bipolar.

McDonald is being held at the Cambria County Prison on unrelated charges stemming from alleged threats he made on Nov. 24 to an employee at Memorial Medical Center.

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