The man accused of starting a fire inside a York City warehouse that destroyed six properties and displaced about a dozen people has known the warehouse's owner for years and did odd jobs for him, testimony revealed.
At the close of Keith Allen Hetrick Jr.'s preliminary hearing Thursday, District Judge Richard Martin II determined enough evidence exists for Hetrick to stand trial on numerous charges of arson and related offenses.
Defense attorney George Marros argued there were no eyewitnesses who testified they saw Hetrick start the fire, or who could even conclusively identify him as being one of two burglars seen going in and out of the warehouse minutes before it turned into an inferno.
"The only reason to charge my client is because he had a (room) heater and smelled like gasoline" when police spoke with him, Marros argued.
'Overwhelming': But deputy prosecutor Caleb Enerson said he had presented enough circumstantial evidence, and the judge agreed.
"There is overwhelming circumstantial evidence," Martin said.
Hetrick, 27, of 570 Company St., remains in York County Prison on $250,000 bail. He is scheduled for formal arraignment on May 16.
Michael Shores Jr. testified he, along with his father, owned the destroyed construction warehouse at 701-703 W. Philadelphia St., as well as two garages to the back of those addresses and 118 N. Belvidere Ave., all clustered at the corner of Philadelphia and Belvidere.
He testified he's known Hetrick for years, and that Hetrick and his friends approached Shores many years ago and asked about doing work for him.
"He grew up in the neighborhood," Shores testified. "I gave them little odd jobs to do," including having Hetrick finish fixing the roof at 703.
Fire was arson: Trooper Bradley Dunham, a state police fire marshal, testified the massive blaze destroyed not only Shores' properties, but also 705 W. Philadelphia St., which was unoccupied.
Dunham said he determined the fire was intentionally set inside 703, most likely on the second or third floor.
York City Police Officer Matthew Irvin testified he and other officers were called to the warehouse about 12:40 a.m. March 20 — not for a fire, but for a report of two burglars climbing into a window of the warehouse, coming out with items, then going into 118 N. Belvidere Ave.
Smelled of gas: Officers went to the second-floor apartment of 118 and while there, Hetrick walked in smelling strongly of gasoline and holding a torpedo-type room heater, Irvin said. His jacket also matched the description of one of the burglars seen going in and out of the warehouse, the officer said.
Moments later, officers saw flames coming from the broken window the burglars had been using.
"It sounded like the entire building was engulfed," Irvin told the judge.
Shores testified he had been storing a tornado-type heater in his warehouse, and Dunham testified that heater was never found in the rubble.
Police arrested Hetrick at the scene, and Irvin said for a time he and Hetrick stood there as firefighters battled the blaze.
"We were both watching the fire. ... It was very big," Irvin said. "Out of the blue he just told me fires don't fascinate him — firefighters do."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.