Prison for York City landlord who lit open gas lines

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

A York City landlord who police said broke open and lit gas lines inside a rental property has avoided attempted arson charges as part of a negotiated plea agreement.

At the time, city officials said he could have blown up the house or perhaps the whole neighborhood.

Jason Snelbaker

Jason Allen Snelbaker, 45, of South Duke Street, pleaded guilty Monday, Nov. 13, in York County Court to a single count of reckless endangerment, a second-degree misdemeanor, according to court records.

In exchange for his plea, charges of arson, attempted arson and risking a catastrophe were dismissed.

Snelbaker was sentenced to seven to 23 months in York County Prison and ordered to report there Dec. 29, according to court records.

He also was ordered to pay restitution and to attend crime-impact classes, records state.

Snelbaker has already served about four months in prison and received credit for that time, according to court records.

3-foot flame: Police said Snelbaker disconnected two natural-gas lines inside 49 Jefferson Ave. on Jan. 19 so his pipes wouldn't freeze after electric service to the rental property was turned off, according to court documents.

Shortly after 8 p.m., 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," York City Detective Andy Baez wrote in charging documents.

York City 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, according to Baez.

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.

'Like a candle': Snelbaker showed up while police and firefighters were still on scene.

He 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, court documents state.

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."

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.

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C.O. danger: 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.

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 she told him it wasn't safe, according to Baez. Johnson left the house because of the danger, documents state.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.