Homeowner charged in aftermath of Harrison fire

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 11:21 a.m.

A Harrison man trying to save guns and other belongings from his burning home on Sunday afternoon was arrested after he allegedly charged a police officer.

Neighbors used a ladder to rescue Matt Shaffer, 53; his son, Matthew Shaffer Jr., 29; and Kara Valchar, 26, of Lower Burrell, from the porch roof of the Painter Avenue house.

Police said they arrested Shaffer after he “went after” an officer and tried to grab his uniform.

Harrison police Officer Chris Cottone said Shaffer accused Officer Floyd “Bucky” Taraszewski of making fun that his house was on fire. Taraszewski was speaking with a news photographer at the time.

Cottone said later it wasn't clear if Shaffer was going for the officer or the photographer.

“He went in that direction. We intervened,” Cottone said.

Shaffer was sent to the Allegheny County Jail on charges of aggravated assault on a police officer, disorderly conduct, public intoxication and terroristic threats.

Cottone said police found marijuana pipes in a bedroom while clearing the house.

The fire was reported shortly before 5 p.m.

Citizens Hose fire Chief Sean Jones said the fire appeared to have started in the kitchen. The Allegheny County fire marshal was called to investigate.

All three people in the house were in bedrooms on the second floor when the fire broke out, Jones said. Shaffer broke a second-floor window over the porch, cutting his hands.

Neighbor Justin Conrad said he, his son, Michael, 15, and other neighbors used his ladder to get the Shaffers and Valchar off the porch roof. Conrad said he was working outside his home when he heard yelling and a neighbor told him the house was on fire.

Shaffer “had some firearms he wanted to get out of the house,” Conrad said. He said Shaffer dropped about a half dozen hunting rifles down to him.

Conrad said Shaffer Jr., Valchar and a dog were brought down the ladder, but Shaffer was still in the house.

“He was crying about this cedar chest,” Conrad said. “Whatever is in that cedar chest is important to him. His No. 1 priority was to get it out.”

Cottone said police did not look inside the chest, which remained on the porch roof as firefighters were leaving.

Conrad said they helped Shaffer get the chest out onto the porch roof, but he was still intent on going back in.

“He didn't want to come out,” neighbor John Zylinski said. “He was worrying about his possessions. We said, ‘You got to get out of here, man.' ”

Zylinski said black smoke was billowing out the windows.

“He was very fortunate. That was within minutes of going up,” Zylinski said.

Conrad said another neighbor and police fought the fire with a garden hose, spraying the kitchen walls and a stove.

Jones said the fire was mostly knocked down when firefighters arrived. It was out within 10 minutes, he said.

The fire began spreading up the kitchen walls to the ceiling, but was contained to the kitchen, Jones said. He said the damage to the house was not that severe.

“He's just very lucky. His house is still standing,” Zylinski said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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