Police: Manheim Twp. barn arsonist nursed 20-year grudge, has mental-health issues

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Northern Regional Police said fires that destroyed two barns in Lineboro Road in Manheim Township on March 27, 2020, were intentionally set by David Sterner of Lineboro, Maryland.

A Maryland man accused of torching two barns in Manheim Township last month has mental-health issues and had nursed a 20-year grudge against an ex-girlfriend's family members, who own the barns, according to police allegations.

David Carroll Sterner, 64, of the 3400 block of Traceys Mill Road in Carroll County, has not yet been extradited to York County to be arraigned on his multiple felony counts of arson, risking a catastrophe and criminal mischief, as well as misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment.

Northern York County Regional Police allege Sterner torched adjacent barns in the 5000 and 5200 blocks of Lineboro Road in the township shortly before 2 a.m. March 27.

The barns and their contents were destroyed, although 35 head of cattle were saved from one of them, fire officials said. Damage is estimated at about $500,000.

The owners of both barns are brothers of a woman who dated Sterner 20 years ago, police said.

One of the brothers told an officer at the scene that he suspected Sterner was behind the fires and that Sterner fired a gun at the brother's home after his relationship with the victim's sister ended, charging documents allege.

Northern Regional Police said two barn fires on Lineboro Road in Manheim Township on March 27, 2020, were set by an arsonist.

Sterner is staying with his nephew outside Lineboro in Carroll County, Maryland, which is about 2 miles from the fire scene, police said.

Allegedly caught on video: Surveillance videos from security cameras located between the barns and Sterner's nephew's home show Sterner walking toward the barns shortly after 1 a.m, then walking in the other direction at 1:53 a.m.  — in the middle of the road, smoking a cigarette.

That was seven minutes before 911 was first called about the fires, documents state.

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The  fires were started in hay bales being stored on upper levels of both barns, according to charging documents filed by Detective Mark Baker.

Each barn had been built into a bank that made the upper level accessible by a door, police said.

A Northern Regional fire investigator determined someone had set hay bales on fire — in each case it was "as if someone walked into the door, turned left and started a fire in the stacked haybales," Baker wrote in charging documents.

'You're next': Sterner was arrested in Maryland by Carroll County Police and is being held there on a charge of making terroristic threats after a family member heard him mumbling, "you're next," which the family member believed was a threat to burn down a barn owned by the Sterner family.

A firefighter walks past a barn located in the 5000 block of Lineboro Road in Manhiem Township which burned early Friday, March 27, 2020. A barn at an adjacent property also was destroyed at approximately the same time. Bill Kalina photo

Another of Sterner's family members overheard him mumbling to himself in the hours after the barn fires, "you don't have to worry about those two anymore," charging documents allege.

Police said when they spoke with Sterner at the Traceys Mill Road home, his jeans were wet up to mid-calf and there was a mud streak on his left pants leg, documents state.

Also, there was silage found on his boots that's consistent with silage at the scene of the barn fires, police allege. Silage is a form of feed for farm animals, including cattle and sheep.

When an officer told Sterner someone might have seen him in the area of the fire, Sterner replied, "nobody saw anything," according to documents.

It is unclear if he has retained an attorney.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.