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MERCER Probing fire, police seek to question man



Published: Thu, August 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



After the fire, a safe was missing and coin boxes had been tampered with.

GREENVILLE, Pa. -- Pennsylvania State Police in Mercer investigating a suspicious fire and carbon monoxide death at the Otter Creek Hotel and Cantina are trying to find Michael Watson, who rented a room at the hotel.

Watson is 40, 5 foot 7 inches and 170 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. He has a Playboy bunny tattoo on his right arm. He may be driving a red older model GMC Jimmy.

Anyone with information about his whereabouts is asked to call the state police Mercer barracks at (724) 662-6162.

A fire at the hotel at 438 Hadley Road, Otter Creek Township, was reported at 4:20 a.m. Tuesday. The building contains an office, bar and storage area on the first floor and rental rooms on the second floor.

A Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal investigating the blaze has not determined a cause yet but said the fire is of suspicious origin.

James Hall, 48, of Plumb Road, Greenville, was found dead in the first floor hallway by firefighters from Sheakleyville and Hempfield Township. An autopsy revealed that Hall, who rented a room at the hotel, died of smoke and carbon monoxide inhalation.

Contact with Watson

The call to Mercer County 911 reporting the fire was from a man who identified himself at Mike Skruck, but the call was traced to Watson, police said. During the course of the investigation, several phone contacts were made with Watson, who indicated a willingness to meet with investigators and then avoided doing so, police said.

Investigators said that, during the conversations, Watson indicated a willingness to harm himself. Subsequent attempts to contact Watson revealed he had turned off his phone.

After the fire was extinguished, investigators found that a safe was missing from the first-floor office and a coin box on the pool table in the bar had been pried open and emptied. A coin box on a video machine had been tampered with.

A hand-truck was later discovered missing from the storage room adjacent to the bar.




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