Shenandoah man charged with arson is apprehended

Feb. 22—A Shenandoah man charged last year with arson was apprehended Tuesday night and is in Schuylkill County Prison.

John A. Banaszewski, 43, was arraigned Tuesday by Magisterial District Judge David A. Plachko, Port Carbon, on six felony counts each of arson, risking catastrophe and maliciously setting or causing fire to a forest.

The 18 charges were announced in September, but police said they were looking for Banaszewski.

Banaszewski, also known as "Bano," admitted to lighting six fires on May 12, according to Jake Novitsky, fire forester for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who covers the Weiser Forest District.

Novitsky said the fires occurred on property owned by Reading Anthracite east of Shenandoah between 8 and 8:30 p.m.

Novitsky interviewed the suspect on June 29, but when he and Shenandoah police went to serve an arrest warrant on July 29, Banaszewski wasn't at his residence, police said at the time.

On Tuesday night, police spotted him in Shenandoah and took him into custody. Unable to post 10% of $50,000 bail, he was incarcerated.

Novitsky said a state police trooper was in an aircraft May 12 to see if there were any wildfires in the area. Aerial surveillance spotted a male, who was with two dogs, setting wildfires just east of the borough near a reservoir, according to charging documents.

Novitsky said he, local police and a state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources employee were in the borough waiting for the results of the aerial surveillance. They responded after being notified.

Banaszewski and two others were found and escorted out of the woods, Novitsky said. All cooperated and gave police identifying information and said there were only two campfires in the area, according to Novitsky.

The following day, Novitsky said he investigated and found two campfires and six wildfires, with about 12 to 18 points of origin, about 175 yards south from where two campfires had been.

Novitsky said "some of the wildfires burned into one another."

Video footage showed a male, who had dogs with him, setting fires, documents state.

Questioned June 29 at the police station, Banaszewski denied setting the fires, Novitsky said. After more questioning, he "confessed to setting tall grass on fire" to clear a path to the water, Novitsky said.

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