Police: Landlord broke gas lines, lit them 'like a candle'

Liz Evans Scolforo

Most folks whose homes are too cold invest in a space heater, but not Jason Allen Snelbaker, according to police. Instead, he broke open gas lines and lit them, which officials said could have blown up the entire house, and perhaps the neighborhood with it.

Jason Snelbaker

The York City landlord is accused of disconnecting two natural-gas lines inside 49 Jefferson Ave. last month so his pipes wouldn't freeze after electric service to the rental property was turned off, according to charging documents filed by York City Police Detective Andy Baez.

Snelbaker, 43, of 935 S. Duke St., is charged with counts of arson and with risking a catastrophe. Bail in the case was set at $25,000, which a bail bondsman posted, court records state.

Three-foot flame: Shortly after 8 p.m. Jan. 19, a neighbor called 911 to say there was fire inside Snelbaker's property. Responding York City firefighters looked inside and saw a 3-foot-tall flame in the laundry room of the house, documents state.

"(It) looked as if someone was trying to light the house on fire because the corrugated gas line that was (attached) to the gas dryer was disconnected and was lit, which was giving off the three foot high flame in the room," Baez wrote.

Firefighters forced their way inside, where they found a second gas flame at the furnace in the basement, documents state. Flames were climbing up a brick support column, Baez wrote.

Fire crews secured the gas meter, ventilated the house and called Columbia Gas to block the meter and "red tag" the furnace, according to the detective.

Lit 'like a candle': Snelbaker showed up while police and firefighters were still on scene, and told officials he disconnected the lines and lit them "like a candle" to heat the house because electric service was terminated and he didn't want his pipes to freeze, documents allege.

"(He) was advised  that what he did was very dangerous and he could have caused a catastrophe," Baez wrote.

Officials told Snelbaker he could have blown himself up, caused firefighters to be injured, killed his tenant or even "blown up the neighborhood," documents state.

But according to Baez, Snelbaker was unrepentant and argued that what he did wasn't dangerous, adding that "he burned wood stoves for over 20 years."

'No concern': When told that wood stoves are completely different, Snelbaker still "had no concern for the safety of others," including his tenant, Baez wrote.

Columbia Gas officials at the scene also tried to explain to Snelbaker how dangerous his actions were, but he continued to argue, documents state.

When alerted to a hole in the chimney that would cause carbon monoxide to leak into the house when the gas was turned back on, Snelbaker "advised he didn't care about the carbon monoxide, his concern was about the pipes freezing," according to Baez.

Nine days later, Baez spoke with Snelbaker's tenant in the house, Hope Johnson, who said she and her former boyfriend had a lease-to-own agreement with Snelbaker.

What tenant said: She said when she and her boyfriend broke up, he had the electric service turned off because it was in his name, documents state.

Johnson said she told Snelbaker she needed a new single-person lease so she could get electric turned back on, police said.

She was in the home Jan. 19 when Snelbaker disconnected the gas lines and lit the fumes, and told him it wasn't safe, according to Baez. Johnson then left the house because of the danger, documents state.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.