Accused arsonist waives hearing

A Friday afternoon fire displaced residents from this seven-unit apartment building in Hallstead. The blaze was ruled arson. Charges were filed against Frederick Bentler, a building resident. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

BY STACI WILSON

The man accused of setting fire to a two-story Hallstead apartment building April 13 waived

FREDERICK BENTLER

his preliminary hearing Monday in New Milford District Court.

Numerous felony arson and related counts were lodged against Frederick Bentler, 31, Hallstead, by Deputy Fire Marshal John Chervanka. He is being held on $150,000 bail.

The fire marshal determined the Bentler used an open flame to ignite available combustible materials inside his apartment.

According to the affidavit, about 30 firefighters battled the Friday afternoon fire that began in Bentler’s apartment and displaced about 11 tenants from six other units in the building located at the corner ofPine St.andChase Ave.

The building sustained about $75,000 worth of damage, according to the fire marshal’s criminal complaint. The building is owned by Robert Fasler.

Several residents were at home at the time the fire started, according to the criminal complaint.

In interviews with the fire marshal, witnesses said they saw smoke coming from Bentler’s apartment.

Ian Schankman told the investigator he banged on Bentler’s and tried to kick it in. “I think it was locked,” Schankman said. “After that I started banging on the other doors of the apartments.”

Bentler was later apprehended near the scene at the home of a relative onFranklin St., Hallstead.

According to the affidavit, he agreed to speak with Chervanka and detailed a litany of complaints about the building and some of the other tenants.

He also told investigators he had been the only person in his apartment that day.

According to the complaint, Chervanka told Bentler he determined the fire had been set on purpose and Bentler then went on a rant and stated, “Bonnie andClydeset the fire.”

After being taken into custody, Bentler denied setting the fire. But, according to the affidavit, prior to arriving at the Gibson State Police barracks, Bentler said, “Ya, I set the fire those (expletive) kept pissing me off.”

At the police station, Bentler went on to tell police he used matches to light a couch and chair located near the window in the corner of a room in the first floor apartment.

According to one of the building’s tenants, Clifford Helms, Bentler had lived there for about two years but his behavior became more and more erratic over the past month.

Helms said police had been called about Bentler on “plenty of times” and were even called the day before the fire. Helms said Bentler had thrown a banister through a window of his apartment on Thursday, April 12.

“I feel bad for him. He needs help,” Helms said. “But there are now other people in the building he has caused problems for.”

Hallstead Fire Company was assisted at the scene by fire companies from Great Bend, Susquehanna, Columbia Hose Co.,New Milfordand United Fire Company, Montrose.