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Addiction is defense in arson case

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

A Jeannette man was addicted to marijuana and alcohol when he set three fires in the city, including one that injured a firefighter, according to defense attorney Harry Smail.

Roger William Adair, 27, admitted on Thursday to starting the blazes in abandoned buildings.

“I know what I did was wrong, I realize that now,” Adair told Judge Debra Pezze. “I was foolish in what I did.”

Adair was sentenced to serve 18 to 36 months in the Westmoreland County Prison for his role in three arsons in a string of 20 between 2008 and 2012 that put Jeannette residents on edge until six suspects were arrested in September.

Adair became the fourth suspect to plead guilty in the last two weeks.

Adair pleaded guilty to setting fires on Sept. 3, 2009, along Chambers Avenue; Feb. 3, 2012, at 324 Chestnut St., where a firefighter was injured, and Nov. 18, 2010, at 118 N. Fifth St.

Judge Al Bell gave Smail, who is court-appointed, permission in March to spend up to $3,000 to hire a private investigator to bolster a possible alibi defense for Adair, who claimed he was living in New Kensington when the fires were set.

The investigator determined it would be difficult to support Adair's claim, Smail said Thursday.

Adair's drug and alcohol use “affected his conduct ... and his bad decisions that he made,” Smail said.

City fireman James Swartz suffered a laceration to his neck from shattered glass when a window burst during the Chestnut Street fire.

Assistant District Attorney Leo Ciaramitaro read a letter from Swartz, who described the sight of blood spurting from his neck.

“I honestly thought I was going to die,” Swartz wrote. “I was not allowed to return to work or even drive a car for the next two weeks.”

Swartz was flown to a Pittsburgh hospital for treatment and still has a scar.

“Arson is not a victimless crime,” he wrote. “We pray the defendants will learn from their mistakes.”

Investigators found marijuana at Adair's home when they arrested him, Ciaramitaro said.

Pezze ordered Adair to complete a drug and alcohol evaluation.

Also found at Adair's home was a “large jar of lighters, which he indicated had special importance to him,” Ciaramitaro said.

The six suspects were charged in nine of the 20 arsons. Adair is the fifth suspect to be sentenced.

In the other cases:

• John Raymond Horne, 22, of Jeannette was sentenced Tuesday to 18 to 36 months in connection with four fires, including the Chestnut Street blaze.

• Christopher Allen Jones, 23, of Manor, was sentenced on April 29 to three years of intensive supervision and six months under house arrest with electronic monitoring in a 2008 fire.

• Horne's half-brother, Jeffrey Robert Tierney Jr., 24, of Jeannette, was sentenced April 29 to serve one year less a day to two years less a day in prison and three years' probation in connection with four fires.

• A juvenile charged in one fire began a fire-setting rehabilitation program in October.

The final suspect is Adair's brother, Richard Allen Adair Jr., 28, of Jeannette, who faces arson charges for three fires:

• Aug. 24, 2010, at 212 N. Fifth St.

• Oct. 19, 2011, at 416 S. Sixth St.

• Nov. 18, 2010, at 118 N. Fifth St.

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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