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North Charleroi man to stand trial for car thefts, arson charges

| Friday, April 18, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Tonio Howard

A North Charleroi man accused of stealing vehicles from a Charleroi auto repair garage and setting one of them on fire will head to trial.

Charges against Tonio Brian-Anthony Howard, 22, of 372 Pennsylvania Blvd., Apt. 5, for two separate incidents were held for court Wednesday before Magisterial District Judge Ethan Ward in Washington County Central Court.

Howard allegedly stole vehicles from Ross Automotive at 621 McKean Ave. on Feb. 14 and March 20, according to Charleroi Regional police.

Howard allegedly denied stealing a BMW on Feb. 14, telling Officer Chad Zelinsky he gave a man $20 for the car and subsequently returned the vehicle to the man, whom he never saw again. Police said they acquired surveillance footage of Howard driving the stolen vehicle.

On March 20, police were called back to Ross Automotive for a burglary that occurred overnight. Howard is accused of stealing a GMC Envoy, cash register and keys to several vehicles on the lot.

Police said the Envoy was found March 27 at the intersection of Second Street and Lincoln Avenue in Charleroi. According to the complaint, the owner, whom police did not identify, was notified and said he would have it towed.

Because the ignition key was missing, a Ross employee disabled the vehicle so it could not be driven, police stated.

At 5:22 a.m. March 28, police and Charleroi firefighters were called to the intersection of Second Street and Lincoln Avenue, where the Envoy was engulfed in flames.

Police found a small, red plastic gasoline container near the vehicle. A clerk at the nearby Sunoco gas station told police a black man with tattoos on his face, neck and arms bought $2.50 in gasoline at 4:29 a.m. which was pumped into the red container, according to police.

Police said the store's surveillance camera showed Howard purchasing the gasoline and leaving in a white Dodge Caliber.

Zelinsky served a search warrant at Howard's residence 12:45 p.m. April 2, where keys for the BMW, Range Rover and Ford Explorer were purportedly found in a duffle bag.

Howard is charged with receiving stolen property, burglary and two counts of theft by unlawful taking for the Feb. 14 incident.

For the March 20 burglary and March 28 vehicle fire, Howard is charged with 15 counts of recklessly endangering another person, three counts of arson, two counts of theft by unlawful taking and one count each of burglary, risking a catastrophe and receiving stolen property.

Howard remains in the Washington County Correctional Facility in lieu of $50,000 bond for the Feb. 14 incident and $100,000 bond for the March 20 and 28 incidents.