By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Charging documents allege 26-year-old Jonathan P. Brown doused his bed and pillows with lamp oil before setting a fire while his mother and 87-year-old grandfather slept and then walked down the street with a lighter, intending to to start as many structure fires as he could before police found him.
Brown, 26, appeared in Lewis County Superior Court this afternoon, charged with one count of first-degree arson in connection with the early yesterday morning events on the 3400 block of Prill Road in Centralia.
He’s been there before.
In 2009, the then-21-year-old pleaded guilty to a string of six fires and attempted fires in the Centralia area that caused or could have caused damage to buildings including a residence and a garage. He was sentenced to four and half years in prison.
Centralia police impounded his truck this weekend looking for evidence from an early morning fire on Saturday about a mile from his home that burned the front door area to an unoccupied house, according to court documents.
“I think he presents a distinct threat to public safety, a very grave one,” Lewis County Deputy Prosecutor Eric Eisenberg told a judge this afternoon as he recommended a high amount for bail.
Brown, handcuffed and shackled at his waist and ankles, was represented by defense attorney Bob Schroeter.
Judge Richard Brosey set bail at $250,000 and signed no-contact orders regarding Brown’s mother and grandfather.
His mother was in the courtroom, but declined to comment.
Sunday’s fire was contained to the bedroom, but charging documents and the fire department give an account of what could have been deadly.
Brown’s mother, Deborah Brown, said she woke up to a fire alarm, went into her son’s room and found burning pillows atop a large chair.
She yelled for her son, she yelled for her father to wake up and tried to get a bowl of water from the kitchen tap, but found there was no water pressure, according to charging documents. She ran back to the bedroom, grabbed the pillows and managed to smother the flames, charging documents state.
She then woke up her father John Germeau who is hard of hearing and called 911. It was 5:40 a.m.
Deborah Brown suffered minor burns to her hand or hands.
The fires in May and early June almost five years ago included a detached garage on Ham Hill Road, and others such as the tarp covering a recreational vehicle and someone’s portable shed, Riverside Fire Authority Chief Jim Walkowski recalled this morning. Court documents indicate Centralia police investigated two fires on Prill Road and Brown admitted to an incident at the historic Borst Home.
Brown was arrested on June 2, and his lawyer Don Blair noted in court documents his defense at trial would include general denial, diminished capacity and potentially mental health issues. But by the end of July the former assistant manager at the Midway Cinema pleaded guilty. Judge Nelson Hunt gave him 54 months – the top of the standard sentencing range – plus some months of community custody.
He was ordered to pay restitution of almost $20,000 to an insurance company and $1,000 to an individual.
It’s not clear when Brown was released from prison. Centralia Police Department detective Sgt. Pat Fitzgerald said it was “recently”. A letter in his court file from the state Department of Corrections states he was terminated from community custody on May 7, 2012, as he was screened for it and found not eligible for supervision.
Charging documents in the current case say when Brown was interviewed at the jail by Lewis County Sheriff’s Office detective Dan Riordan, Brown admitted starting the fire in his room.
“He then opened the window in the bedroom to let the fire breathe and to allow the smoke to exit the house to prevent the smoke alarm from being activated,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors allege he said he meant to burn the house to the ground, and knew it was a possibility his mother and grandfather could have been overcome by smoke and died.
When asked why, his answer was vague, but did relay he was upset with his mother over some personal issues, prosecutors wrote.
After starting the fire, he left the house, and walked down the street with his lighter, planning to start more fires until he was caught, he reportedly told the detective.
But his lighter broke, and he threw it into the brush.
He was detained yesterday morning on Mayberry Road by a Centralia officer and K-9 partner, according to the sheriff’s office.
Brown’s arraignment is scheduled for Thursday morning. Judge Brosey appointed Blair to represent him again.