CLEARFIELD – A Clearfield man has been accused of setting fire to his apartment to file a false insurance claim, and he waived his right to a preliminary hearing during centralized court Wednesday at the Clearfield County Jail.
Heath Oliver Austin, 41, has been charged by Officer David W. Fye of the Clearfield Borough police with arson/danger of death or bodily injury, five counts, F1; arson/intent to destroy unoccupied building, F2; arson/intent to collect insurance, F2; reckless burning or exploding, F3; and causing catastrophe, F1.
He has also been charged with recklessly endangering another person, M2, seven counts; criminal mischief, F3; and false/fraud insurance claim, F3. His bail is set at $50,000 unsecured.
According to the affidavit of probable cause, at approximately 6:09 a.m. April 3, Clearfield Borough police were dispatched to a structure fire with possible entrapment at 200 E. Pine St. At the scene, officers were met by several tenants from other apartments located within the same building.
Police were directed to an apartment from which the smoke originated. Other tenants told officers that a deaf male, later identified as Austin, lived there and was possibly still inside. Police observed smoke on the glass and coming out between the door frame of Austin’s first-floor apartment on the southern side of the building.
Officer Kem Parada tried the door handle, but it was locked and he had to force entry. He found the apartment was filled with smoke; however, neither firefighters nor police found anyone inside.
After the fire was extinguished, the Clearfield Fire Department requested the assistance of the Pennsylvania State Police Fire Marshal Unit to determine the origin and cause of the fire. PSP Fire Marshal Russell D. Stewart subsequently responded to the scene, and allegedly determined the fire had been intentionally set by direct flame.
According to the affidavit, the flame was delivered by hand, which ignited fuel and clothing in a laundry basket in the master bedroom. Photographs were taken inside the apartment and investigators didn’t find any clothing items in any dresser or bed drawers or cabinets.
On April 3, Stewart also found Austin had filed an insurance claim with State Farm Insurance. He allegedly claimed he’d lost multiple items in the fire, including a large amount of clothing. The total amount of his false claim was $34,259.20; the maximum he could have claimed on his policy was $36,300.
On April 24, Stewart, along with Corporal Matthew Higgins, met with Austin and a Certified Deaf Interpreter Marla J. Ball. Austin admitted to Higgins that he was having a hard time financially, and he started the fire by using a lighter to ignite a shirt in the laundry basket.