A man admitted to setting his Port Matilda home on fire in October before crossing the street to watch it burn down, but District Judge Kelley Gillette-Walker dismissed arson charges against the man.
Dale Beck, 54, had been avoiding police apprehension since July because a separate warrant had been issued based on a domestic simple assault charge that resulted from throwing his estranged wife into glass from a broken mirror and striking her with a lamp, according to court records.
Beck told police the woman helped him avoid apprehension by supplying him with food, cigarettes and drinks.
The woman told Beck she had been seeing a new boyfriend and was no longer going to help him on Oct. 15. She said she was going to give him until Oct. 16 to turn himself in or she was going to call the police.
She also wanted to talk to Beck about what was going to happen to the house, valued at about $30,000, if he went to prison. She said she wanted half the value, which angered Beck because the home had belonged to his deceased parents.
The home then belonged to Beck and his two sisters, with each owning one-third of the home.
Beck admitted he told the woman that he would rather burn the house down than net a $2,000 profit, according to state police at Philipsburg.
Beck told police he had been drinking alcohol when he went into the home and built a fire near the living room because he was angry. He left the residence and went to a bedded encampment that he made across the street from the house to watch the home fill with smoke and eventually catch on fire, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
Trooper Richard Hoover said the home appeared to be “a total loss” on Wednesday. He also said there was no related damage to neighboring structures. Beck was charged with arson and risking a catastrophe as a result of the fire.
Beck’s wife said she moved out of the home in April, but her personal belongings remained.
Shannon Malone, Beck’s attorney, argued the presence of fire fighters is not sufficient evidence to proceed with arson charges. She also said the incident didn’t rise to the level of arson because the damage was limited to Beck’s home.
“This clearly doesn’t rise to the level of risking a catastrophe,” Malone said. “One structure burning with nobody in it isn’t a catastrophe.”
Centre County Deputy District Attorney Sean McGraw countered Malone’s claims and said arson charges have two elements: starting a fire and starting a fire with intent to damage a building.
McGraw leaned on Beck’s admission that he started the fire intentionally and destroyed the home and the woman’s personal belongings in the process.
In her final statement, Malone said the statue that Beck was charged with was specifically about a building, not personal property.
The charge that Beck faced is defined as committing the act, “With intent of destroying or damaging a building or unoccupied structure of another.”
“After reviewing all of the information against you, I am dismissing the charges,” Gillette-Walker said.