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The Sunday Voice
By Robert Kalinowski and Heidi Ruckno, The Sunday Voice
A Wilkes-Barre man was arrested early Saturday day morning just minutes after allegedly starting three fires within a city block in Wilkes-Barre – one of which he told police was racially motivated.
After waiving his right to remain silent, the suspect, Michael Boyle, 23, of 682 Mayflower Crossing, admitted to police that he set fires on Hazle and Hutson streets and on Columbus Avenue, police said.
According to police, Boyle said he set the fires after a night of attending a concert and stops at two bars. He noted he shouldn’t have been drinking because he was taking medication for depression and anxiety.
He told police he was walking home from Claire’s Bar, Ashley, where he stayed until the 2 a.m. closing time, when he walked to the area of the White House Cafe 198 Hazle St., a bar that employs several African-Americans.
He told police he went to the rear of the building and lit boxes and papers on fire in an attempt to burn down the building, which includes four apartments.
When asked why he lit the fire, Boyle allegedly used a racial epithet, saying he hates African Americans and that he was raised that way, police said.
The Hazle Street fire destroyed a garage, which housed a car, motorcycle and a riding lawn mower, and the stairway leading to the apartments, which made two of the apartments unlivable.
The bar, which is owned and operated by a 93-year-old woman, was not damaged and is open for business.
Police credit an alert Wilkes-Barre resident for capturing the suspect.
According to the criminal complaint:
Officer Scott Hine was on routine patrol around 2:45 a.m. when he observed the fire at the White House Cafe. A fire department and an ambulance crew were dispatched and emergency personnel rescued and treated an elderly woman who lived on the second floor. The woman was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation.
Within minutes on scene, another fire was reported at 73 Hutson St., a short distance from the first fire.
When officers arrived on scene, the front of the house was on fire. They then met with the residence’s two occupants, Sharon and Moses Koter, who smelled smoke and were able to exit on their own power.
The Hutson Street fire scorched the siding on the face of the property. A fiberglass roof on the front porch was destroyed. Police said the second fire appeared to have started in a couch and chair on the porch.
A neighbor provided police with a description of the man he saw fleeing the scene, describing the man as a white male with short blonde hair, wearing black or dark clothing.
An officer who was traveling back to police headquarters saw a man who matched that description running through a yard on Columbus Avenue. The suspect, later identified as Boyle, was apprehended in a yard on Lehigh Street.
While the suspect was in custody, a third fire was reported at 62 Columbus Ave., which was extinguished quickly and caused only minimal damage.
In custody, Boyle, willingly speaking to police, admitted his role in all three fires and said he knew it was wrong. He did not give a motive for setting the second and third fires, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
Officer Barry Jacob, who spoke with Boyle and who knew him prior to his apprehension, said Boyle appeared coherent while giving his statement.
Boyle was charged with three counts of arson, one count of reckless endangerment and one count of criminal mischief for each fire.
He was also charged with one count of ethnic intimidation for the White House Caf頦ire.
Boyle was arraigned Saturday evening in front of District Justice James Tupper, Trucksville.
He was sent to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility in lieu of $150,000 straight bail, $50,000 for each arson.
A preliminary hearing is set for Monday, Sept. 20, at 1 p.m. in front of District Justice William Amesbury.