Accused arsonist waives preliminary hearing

LOCK HAVEN — William Robert Benfield. who admitted he started a fire in a trash can in the stairwell of the Fallon Hotel in September 2017, waived his right to a public hearing Thursday and his case moves on through the Clinton County Court system.

Benfield, 23, of 200 East Main St., Apt. 3, Lock Haven, is charged by city police with five counts of arson endangering persons, one count of arson endangering property, five counts of aggravated arson-risking a catastrophe, and criminal mischief, all felonies.

In addition, he was charged with five misdemeanor counts of endangering another person.

Benfield remains in the Clinton County Correctional Facility on $250,000 bail on the arson charges.

In addition, Benfield was charged by city police with three counts of false alarms to agencies of public safety for allegedly making three, fake 911 calls regarding fires in Lock Haven and Allison Township on Sept. 13, Sept. 15 and Sept. 16, 2017, city police said.

On those charges, Judge Mills set bail at $75,000.

The fire at the Fallon Hotel, 131 E. Water St., was called in at 3:34 p.m. on Sept. 21, when smoke was seen coming from the rear of the structure.

Seven different fire stations and three ambulance services responded, and the fire was quickly extinguished.

Interviewed by Lock Haven Police Chief Kristin Smith, Benfield confessed to starting the fire in the stairwell of the Fallon by setting papers in a garbage can on fire with a lighter, Smith said.

Benfield told police he left the Fallon and went home, coming back to the area of the fire and watching fire personnel.

Benfield said he “likes to see fire apparatus respond to fires and knows he has a problem with fascination with fire apparatus and personnel,” Smith said.

At least five people were at the Fallon Hotel when the fire started, including Candy Wadsworth, Lisa Worden, Larry Miller, Steve Watkins and Sean Prosser, police said.

That’s the justification for five counts of arson, which charges that “the defendant intentionally started a fire or caused an explosion or aided, counseled, paid or agreed to pay another to cause a fire or explosion… and recklessly placed another person in danger of death or bodily injury, but not limited to a firefighter, police officer or other person actively engaged in fighting the fire.” Aggravated arson charges that the defendant did so “when a person was inside the property at the time of the offense.”

Everyone in the building was evacuated when the fire call came in, police said.

Fire officials estimated damage at $5,000, but the owners of the Fallon Hotel told The Express it will “cost much than that” for repairs.

“Not even close,” Delores Mantle said when asked about the damage estimate.

She said contractors inspected the damage Monday and estimated it will cost much more than $5,000.

Delores and her husband Terry Mantle, of Lock Haven, are owners of the building.

She said they do not have insurance to cover the loss, but will make repairs as soon as possible.