NT police investigating whether copycat lit 10th arson fire

NORTH TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Police in North Tonawanda are investigating the tenth arson fire on 5th Avenue in the city within the last month. Although a woman was charged in the first nine fires, police say they are unsure whether she was responsible for the tenth.

Police are looking into whether a copycat might be the culprit after a Jeep was spotted in front of the house at 7 5th Avenue shortly before the fire early Sunday morning.

The house at is for sale. One month ago, a buyer put in a nice offer, then pulled out after someone lit the 100-year-old solid oak front door on fire.

“It was scary,” said neighbor Danielle Petko.

The two families living inside didn’t have to move out then. But early Sunday morning, a firebug stuck again.

“It burned in and took out her whole apartment,” said neighbor Eugene Moderacki. Now the house is unlivable.

“It’s so hard to make observations now. Because what is the world coming to?” said the house’s owner and landlord. He didn’t want his face shown for the interview. But he took News 4 inside to see the damage.

“The guy that lived upstairs, he had his son with him. A 10 year-old boy,” the owner said, adding they might not have lived, if it weren’t for the smoke detectors. The tenant woke up and got his son and the other tenants out safely.

No one has been charged in this fire yet. It took the owner by surprise when next door neighbor Michelle Johnston was arrested and accused of the first arson. He said Johnston was the one who called him to inform him of the fire.

“It was unbelievable,” Moderacki said. He called it that because Johnston was also charged with igniting the house two doors down 8 times in the last month. She lives right in-between them.

Neighbors tell News 4 they know of no explanation. Police said Johnston admitted to a number of the initial arson fires, but not all. She did not reveal a motive.

Johnston was free on bail at the time of Sunday’s fire. But police have not charged her in this newest crime.

Neighbors have a hard time understanding why anyone could risk getting caught.

“I think someone else would be afraid to come here, because they’d be afraid police are watching,” Parry said.

North Tonawanda Police want to hear from anyone with information the Jeep, possibly a Liberty or Patriot model, seen near the crime scene.

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