A Delaware man pleaded guilty in Harford County Circuit Court this week to starting fires in Bel Air last June that caused over $1 million in damages.
Richard Benjamin Lodeski, 44, of Wilmington, pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree arson for setting fire to a Shell gas station on Route 924 near Plumtree Road on June 15 and starting fires at two auto shops in the 1200 block of Bel Air Road five days later, according to a statement from the Office of the State Fire Marshal.
Initially, Lodeski was investigated for burning the auto shops, but more charges were added after investigators from the fire marshal’s office connected him to the gas station fire.
Lodeski was sentenced to 20 years for each count of arson, but the judge suspended 10 years for each count related to the auto shop fires and all but time served, 213 days, for the gas station fire, according to online court records. The two 10-year sentences are to be served concurrently.
Once released, he will also serve three years supervised probation, court records show.
Several malicious burning and malicious destruction of property charges were dropped as part of the plea agreement with prosecutors.
According to charging documents, a maroon pickup was seen parked at a Wawa in the 700 block of Bel Air Road in the early morning before the fire at the auto shops, and a man walked into the store.
He bought a pack of cigarettes, a cup of coffee and 2 gallons of diesel fuel, the documents state, and paid with a $100 bill before leaving the parking lot at approximately 2:30 a.m.
About 15 minutes later, a witness saw someone walking between the two metal shell structures that house eight businesses, located behind the Birroteca restaurant on Bel Air Road, the documents state. The witness later saw the fires and an individual leaving the scene around 3:23 a.m.
Car shops Too Tuff to Buff and Dent Doctors both suffered direct fire damage and others sustained smoke and water damage, the fire marshal’s office reported at the time.
Gavin Patashnick, the deputy state’s attorney for Harford County who prosecuted the case, said the man in the footage was Lodeski, and his car did not take diesel fuel.
After casing the store and buying the fuel, Lodeski went to the auto shops and started the fires in two separate buildings. For at least one, he cut a hole in the side of the building, stuffed it full of flammable material, poured diesel fuel on it and ignited it, Patashinick said.
Afterward, Lodeski returned to the Wawa in the truck, and there is some evidence that he watched as firetrucks sped to the scene, Patashnick said. All of the fires were random, Patashnick said, and Lodeski had no meaningful connection to any of the places burned.
Patashnick said Lodeski lobbed something incendiary onto the roof of the Shell station to start that fire.
Lodeski has also been connected to other fires Baltimore County and burglary in Ocean City, according to the fire marshal’s office. Investigators are working with Delaware law enforcement in connecting him to other arsons in the Dewey Beach area.
Latest Harford County
Lodeski was represented by the public defender’s office in the Harford County cases. Kelly Casper, the district public defender for Harford, did not wish to comment on the case when reached.