Ronald J. Panunto, PE, CFEI, Electrical Engineering Consultant ::::
Case Synopsis: The state police, with the assistance of the ATF, indicted a female church parishioner for setting a fire in a church located in upstate Pennsylvania. Through investigation, it was found that several of the women who assisted the pastor of the church were vying for his attention, which police believed to be a possible motive
The fire occurred in the pastor’s office, and the state police called in the ATF to check for accelerants. Even though the ATF was unable to confirm the use of accelerants, the state police charged the woman parishioner with intentionally starting the fire.
In examining the evidence retained by the state police, it was found that a space heater was located on a rug underneath of a table where the fire started. The electrical cord to the heater was badly burned and the cord’s conductors had arced.
Result: The case went to trial where it was demonstrated to the jury that the space heater’s power cord was underneath the space heater and in direct contact with the rug.
It was explained that the heater melted the insulation on the power cord, leading to arcing between the hot and neutral conductors, which in turn ignited nearby combustibles, which included the rug and nearby stacks of paper.
The jury returned a “not guilty” verdict.
Ronald J. Panunto, PE, CFEI, is an Electrical Engineering Consultant with DJS Associates and can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.