Vestaburg man charged with setting fire to garage

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A Vestaburg man was arrested Thursday on charges including arson after he allegedly set a fire last week to a neighbor’s garage that also damaged two adjoining homes.


Richard Allen Liberatore, 44, of 312 Second St., was arraigned before District Judge Curtis Thompson for allegedly setting the June 30 fire at the garage owned by George and Carla Johnson at 405 Hill St., Vestaburg.


East Bethlehem police were called about 7 p.m. June 30 to the Johnsons’ property, where they reported the theft of a Toro self-propelled lawn mower and two gasoline cans. When asked by police if he knew who stole the items, the Johnsons identified Liberatore.


The couple told police he reportedly stole in the past and a witness had seen him near the shed where the mower had been stored.


Police went to Liberatore’s home. The officer spotted a Toro lawn mower that matched the description of the one stolen from the Johnsons at the rear of his home. The mower was covered by a tarp. The officer tried unsuccessfully to contact Liberatore. The officer told the Johnsons their property had been recovered.


Just before 11 p.m., police and East Bethlehem firefighters were called to 405 Hill for a fire at a garage on the Johnsons’ property. The fire was so intense that it damaged homes on either side of the garage.


Police returned to Liberatore’s home. His mother told police that he was in the shower. He told police that he had left his home to see what was happening.


A witness told police she had seen Liberatore walking in the alley between First and Second streets away from the fire. When he saw the witness, she said he started walking faster. Thirty seconds later, the fire whistle was activated.


East Bethlehem police obtained a warrant for Liberatore’s arrest Monday from District Judge Joshua Kanalis on charges of arson, causing or risking a catastrophe, criminal mischief, criminal trespass, theft and retaliation against a witness or victim.


Liberatore is in Washington County Jail on $75,000 bond. A preliminary hearing is set for Wednesday in Central Court.


The state police fire marshal is assisting in the investigation.


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