Arson charges against Washington Twp. man held for Schuylkill County Court

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Jul. 15—TREMONT — A Washington Twp. man arrested for setting fires that destroyed the home he shared with his father and a vehicle he allegedly stole had all but three charges against him held for Schuylkill County Court during a preliminary hearing Thursday.

Gregory A. Aungst, 50, appeared before Magisterial District Judge David J. Rossi.

He faced felony charges of one count each of causing or risking a catastrophe and arson-endangering persons; two counts each of theft, receiving stolen property and criminal mischief; and three counts of arson and related offenses.

Aungst also faced misdemeanor charges of two counts of unauthorized use of automobiles or other vehicles; and one count of disorderly conduct.

He also was charged with a summary offense of criminal trespass.

All of the charges were by state police Trooper Joshua Knepp of the Schuylkill Haven station.

Knepp, under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Shelby G. Hostetter, told the court he filed the charges against Aungst in connection with the incident that occurred around 2:30 a.m. Oct. 25, 2020, when firefighters were called to the home he lived in and found it engulfed in flames.

Also found was a vehicle burning at the edge of a field about 400 yards away from the defendant's home at 73 Hetzels Church Road.

Knepp said troopers found Aungst's clothing covered in gasoline and blood and spoke to a firefighter who reported the man saying, "The voices told me to burn the house down. ... My dad told me to burn the house."

That firefighter, Jordan Shiffer, a lieutenant with the Pine Grove Hose Hook & Ladder Fire Company, testified that he was at the scene before fire apparatus and saw Aungst come from behind the home carrying a gas can and chain saw that was running.

Shiffer said that he tried to calm Aungst down, but at one point the man approached him with the saw running.

"He came at me with the chain saw and wouldn't put it down," Shiffer said.

According to Knepp, when Aungst was interviewed at a hospital after the fire, he admitted using methamphetamine, marijuana and alcohol the evening before the fire.

Aungst was also making incoherent statements, including about hearing voices telling him that he was responsible for the coronavirus and that there were ghosts in his house, Knepp said.

Due to the odd statements, Knepp said that he stopped the interview and released Aungst into the custody of hospital personnel.

A subsequent investigation by state police fire investigators Troopers Jannsen Herb and Corey Heinbach determined the house and vehicle fires were intentionally set.

Heinbach told the court both were the result of "direct human interaction with malicious intent."

While investigating, Knepp said that Keith Loy came to the scene and reported he employed Aungst at his farm. Loy said he discovered Aungst's vehicle on his 25 Flat Hill Road property and that his Chevrolet pickup truck with a rifle inside were missing.

In court Thursday, Loy would not say whether or not Aungst had permission to use the pickup, adding that "we work on a farm, everybody uses it."

As a result, Aungst's lawyer, Michael Rentschler, of Camp Hill, asked Rossi to dismiss the charges related to that theft due to a lack of evidence.

Rossi agreed and dismissed one count each of theft, receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

Knepp also testified that the vehicle burning at the scene was determined to be a 2000 Chevrolet Tracker owned by Gerald Koch, of 520 Camp Road, Washington Twp.

A short distance away from where the Tracker was stolen, troopers found the Loy pickup truck abandoned.

Koch's wife, Shirley, told the court she and her husband noticed the truck missing on the morning of the fire and said Aungst did not have permission to use the vehicle.

Aungst remains in Schuylkill County Prison, where he's being held on $75,000 cash bail set by Rossi at the time of his arrest.

A competency hearing was held in Schuylkill County Court in May, during which Aungst was ruled competent to stand trial.