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Vandergrift man charged with assaulting police

| Friday, Jan. 3, 2014, 6:12 p.m.
Thomas Steven Cassidy, charged with assaulting Vandergrift police officers.

The owner of a Vandergrift house that was the origin of a fire that destroyed his home and two others a week ago is in the Westmoreland County jail.

Vandergrift police charged Thomas Steven Cassidy, 40, of 519 Burns St. with aggravated assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and public drunkenness stemming from incidents the night of the fire on Dec. 27.

Police have not charged Cassidy in connection with the fire.

The cause of the fire that destroyed Cassidy's home, two others and a garage remains under investigation, said Steve Potoka, chief of Vandergrift No. 2 Fire Department.

Potoka said the fire started in a room at the back of Cassidy's home, which West-moreland County property records show he bought in July.

Investigators on Thursday were sifting through the debris and sending evidence to a laboratory for analysis, Potoka said. The fire was considered suspicious.

The state police fire marshal who is investigating the fire could not be reached for comment on Friday.

In court documents, two Vandergrift police officers responding to the fire about 10:30 p.m. said they found Cassidy standing in front of his house “screaming and yelling.” Officers knew the man was Cassidy because they had arrested him for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct earlier that evening.

Police had been called to 519 Burns about 5 p.m. Police said Cassidy was burning boxes in a fire pit under his back deck, in violation of the borough's restrictions on open burning.

Cassidy allegedly became confrontational with police, and was taken into custody to “sober up.” He was cited for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct and taken home about 8 p.m.

In the second encounter, police said they repeatedly told Cassidy to get across the street and stay out of the way of firefighters. They allege he refused to obey their orders.

After officers told Cassidy he was under arrest, they say he pulled away when they tried to handcuff him. The officers said they had to wrestle Cassidy to the ground. Cassidy continued to fight with officers by pushing them and trying to crawl away, they say.

One officer, Lee Bartolicius, suffered an injured left hand during the fracas.

In the Vandergrift police station, Cassidy allegedly told police he wanted to kill himself by taking one of the officers' guns and shooting himself in the head.

Cassidy was taken to Allegheny Valley Hospital for a mental health evaluation, and was later transferred to Butler Memorial Hospital's mental health ward. He was arrested upon being released from the hospital on Thursday, police said.

Cassidy was arraigned on Thursday before Judge Cheryl Peck-Yakopec and jailed on $100,000 straight bond. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 14 in Peck-Yakopec's office in Allegheny Township.

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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