While in jail, Bellefonte man confessed to setting fire to sheriff’s van, police say

A Bellefonte man already accused of throwing Molotov cocktails onto the roofs of the Centre County Courthouse and sheriff’s office was charged Tuesday by borough police with setting fire to a sheriff’s van in November 2017.

Dennis Hassinger, 49, was seen on video approaching the 2017 Ford Transit on East High Street three times before he poured an accelerant onto the van and lit it on fire, Bellefonte police said in a criminal complaint. A 2012 Ford Expedition nearby was also damaged and police estimated the damage cost about $48,700.

Assistant Public Defender Patrick McAreavy did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Nearly one year later, Centre County maintenance personnel found a hole in the courthouse roof that was caused by a fire, with similar damage also found on the sheriff’s office roof. In both incidents, a state police fire marshal said the fires were incendiary and used a liquid accelerant, police said in the criminal complaint.

Video of the incident was reviewed and Hassinger was jailed on felony charges. He was detained at the Centre County Correctional Facility where, according to his cellmate, he claimed responsibility for the van fire, police wrote in the complaint.

Hassinger’s cellmate met with police in June and told an officer that Hassinger showed him photos and “made it well known it was definitely him.” Hassinger said he ignited the fires because “the county got him several times and he was getting revenge,” police wrote in the complaint.

Hassinger was charged with one felony count each of reckless burning and criminal mischief.

He was arraigned Wednesday by District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker, who set bail at $150,000. Hassinger did not post bail and was returned to the CCCF. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

Hassinger’s trial for the charges stemming from the courthouse and sheriff’s office fires was postponed to the August term of court, according to a court document.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.