USA — A former volunteer firefighter with the Washingtonville Fire Department has pleaded guilty to lighting a string of fires over the last year, including one that seriously injured Warrior Run firefighter Capt. Wayne Hawley.
Chester Cyphers, 52, of 933 Whitehall Road, Danville, entered guilty pleas to 11 counts of arson, one count of aggravated assault and one count of simple assault this morning in Montour County Court. The Danville man faces a maximum of 242 years in prison and $305,000 in fines. The sentencing hearing was not scheduled prior to press time.
Cyphers appeared physically shaken by his appearance in court and told the judge he didnt know why he sparked the fires.
I need help trying to figure that out, he said.
Cyphers was arrested April 16 as he was lighting a brush fire along Berriman Hollow Road, Muncy Creek Township, Lycoming County.
He was charged with 11 counts of arson, 11 counts of causing or risking a catastrophe, 11 counts of recklessly endangering another person, two counts of aggravated assault, one count of burglary and one count of simple assault.
Cyphers has been locked up in Montour County prison, in lieu of $400,00 bail, since his arrest.
Hawley was injured after a portion of a barn at 137 Betz Road, Anthony Township, Montour County fell on him while battling a fire there on Nov. 28, 2007.
He was flown from the scene by helicopter to Geisinger Medical Center, Danville and spent months recovering at McGee Rehabilitation Hospital, Philadelphia.
An emotional homecoming celebration for Hawley was held May 23 in Turbotville, however, the volunteer firefighter remains confined to a wheelchair.
Police said Cyphers ignited the Betz Road fire in the northeast corner of the barn, which was owned by Franklin Eugene Cotner, 61, of Milton. The barn was declared a total loss, sustaining $120,000 worth of damage.
Cyphers was also charged with burning down a barn owned by the Shetler family near Clarkstown, Lycoming County, on Dec. 12, 2007. Police said he also lit numerous brush fires in Montour, Lycoming and Columbia counties.
The majority of fires were set on Wednesdays and Sundays, the two days Cyphers was not working at his job with Fairfield Honda in Muncy. He has since been fired from that job.
According to court papers, Cyphers told police he had started 20 to 25 fires. He said he used a long handled red lighter to spark the blazes.
Police also investigated several other suspicious Wednesday fires, none of which have been linked to Cyphers.