Charges bound to court in Reynoldsville arson, insurance fraud case
By Katie Weidenboerner firstname.lastname@example.org
June 28, 2017
REYNOLDSVILLE, PA — A DuBois man accused of torching his auto repair shop last year in hopes of cashing in on the insurance payment remains in jail, his charges bound to a higher court.
John Anthony Lechiara, 51, of DuBois, is charged by state police with felony counts of arson, reckless burning or exploding, criminal mischief, and insurance fraud, as well as other misdemeanor charges.
District Judge David Inzana found prima facie evidence to hold those charges to a Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas following a nearly three hour long preliminary hearing Tuesday.
The Reynoldsville Fire Department responded to Bowtie Auto on 5 N. Fifth St., where Lechiara ran an auto repair shop, after a passerby called in the alarm around 8:46 p.m. May 11, 2016.
During his testimony Fire Chief Darrin Scolese said when the department arrived smoke was coming from all four sides of the building and it hung heavy in the streets of downtown.
According to past Courier-Express articles, the fire called for a second alarm which brought units from Sykesville, Fourth and Fifth Wards in DuBois and West Sandy Fire Co. tankers in Falls Creek. McCalmont, Sykesville and Knox Township responded to provide extra water.
Approximately 65 firefighters battled the blaze, which was contained within 40 minutes.
The building was unoccupied at the time of the fire, and there were no injuries. Damage was estimated at more than $100,000.
Once extinguished, Scolese called state police fire marshal Greg Agosti because the cause wasn’t “cut and dry.
“During the incident, I was notified by Officer (Bruce) Cramer of some kind of situation that happened during the daytime that could have led for it to be lit by somebody,” Scolese testified.
When Agosti took the stand, the red flags that led him to an arson determination were more numerous than just an afternoon tryst.
His investigation found that the fire had started in a small crawl space located in the subfloor of the garage. Agosti said shop rags were ignited there by someone.
When he canvassed the neighborhood for witnesses and information, he found a nearby business had a video surveillance system which showed Lechiara leaving the building and driving away in his car.
Approximately 23 minutes elapsed from the time Lechiara left the building until smoke started to fill the street.
“It wasn’t a fast moving fire,” Agosti said. “I felt that around the time when the fire would have been instituted was at the time Mr. Lechiara was there.”
Agosti said he looked into other theories, like Lechiara’s claims of spontaneous combustion of the shop rags and potential threats that had been made to him, but none of those panned out.
Lechiara’s insurance activity also spiked concerns.
Agosti said Lechiara had two insurance policies on the building at the time of the fire.
REYNOLDSVILLE, PA - Nearly a year after an auto-shop in Jefferson County caught fire, the man who owns it has been charged for setting it.
John Lechiara, 51, of DuBois, is facing multiple charges including arson, insurance fraud, criminal mischief, recklessly endangering another person and disorderly conduct.
State police said the charges stem from a fire on May 4, 2016, around 8:46 p.m. at Bowtie Tires auto-shop on North 5th Street.
Police said that same day, Lechiara went to his insurance company asking to increase his coverage. But after being denied, police said he canceled his policy and switched to a new company.
Police said initially, Lechiara told them he left his business around 7:30 p.m. the night of the fire. But police said after reviewing video surveillance from the Exxon Gas Station located at the intersection of Main and 5th streets, they discovered Lechiara left around 8 p.m.
The video also showed smoke haze building in the neighborhood by 8:27 p.m. and that no one entered the structure after Lechiara departed, according to police.
Police also said Lechiara told them he was using a torch to fix a muffler before leaving the shop, but police said the fire started in a pre-existing hole in the floor.
According to court documents, Lechiara's business was struggling financially.
Police said months prior to the fire, PennDOT suspended his official safety inspector license from March through July of 2016. Police said the suspension would hamper business income.
Police said federal income tax records showed a net loss of $4,939 in 2014 and a net loss of $9,815 in 2015.
Lechiara is in the Jefferson County jail on $100,000 bail.