By ROBERT CONNELLY
A man accused of setting fire to his ex-girlfriend’s garage, truck and home had his case bound over to a Mahoning County grand jury Wednesday after a preliminary hearing.
John P. Petroff, 41, of Youngstown faces five felony aggravated-arson charges, and his bond was set at $250,000 cash or surety last week in Mahoning County Area Court in the township.
He was in court again Wednesday morning for a preliminary hearing and appeared with a cane and bandages on his leg.
Authorities found Petroff at a home on Potomac Avenue near his ex-girlfriend’s home July 30, after he purportedly set fire to her garage and truck and caused damage to 160 S. Navarre Ave. and 156 S. Navarre Ave.
Petroff told authorities that he had been sitting in a chair all night, but according to the police report, officers saw smoke coming from his leg and skin dripping off.
He received medical treatment at St. Elizabeth Health Center before being transported to the Mahoning County Jail.
During the preliminary hearing, Ken Cardinal, Mahoning County assistant prosecutor, called two witnesses — a resident of 156 S. Navarre Ave., who chased Petroff down to the Potomac Avenue home he ran to, and Tom Neff, arson investigator with the Austintown Fire Department for the past eight years.
Neff said the original call to the fire said a man was running from 160 S. Navarre Ave. on fire. The fire report noted 12:20 a.m. July 30 as the time crews arrived and the fire was under control at 12:36 a.m. Neff said they found a garage fire fully engulfed and was trying to spread to the home and a neighboring home, 156 S. Navarre Ave.
“There was gasoline poured all over the ground, and we also did find the gas can that belonged to his girlfriend laying out in the driveway, and the ground was totally saturated in gas,” he testified.
According to Neff, Petroff said a cigarette fell, causing the fire. Cardinal asked him if a lit cigarette would have been enough to start the blaze. “With my experience and everything, no, a cigarette doesn’t have enough heat source to ignite gas,” Neff said.
The spout of the gas can was found at the Potomac Avenue home.
Petroff told authorities he was at the garage before the blaze and one of his shoes, pants and his cellphone caught on fire and were taken off in the front yard of 156 S. Navarre Ave. The clothes and the gas can have been sent to the state Fire Marshal’s office for fingerprint analysis.
The neighbor of 156 S. Navarre Ave. testified: “I heard a big roar. ... I thought someone threw something on my roof, it was so loud.”
Neff said that roar was the sound of fire igniting the gasoline.
The damaged home, 160 S. Navarre Ave., was up for auction through the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday due to foreclosure. There were no bids on the home, and it had been on the list for the auction since June 4.