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Delaware man arrested, charged with arson in connection to Bel Air fires

Investigators have arrested a Delaware man in connection to two Saturday fires that caused more than $1 million in property damage to a pair of businesses behind the Birroteca restaurant on Bel Air Road, the fire marshal reported Wednesday.

Richard Benjamin Lodeski, 43 of Wilmington, has been charged with two counts each of second-degree arson, first-degree malicious burning and malicious destruction of property over $1,000, according to court records. If convicted, he could face a 50-year sentence and $50,000 in fines, according to a news release from the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

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Investigators arrested Lodeski without incident Tuesday evening and he was taken to the Harford County Detention Center. Lodeski continued to be held without bail following a hearing in District Court Thursday afternoon, according to online court records.

Electronic court records did not list an attorney for Lodeski. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for July 23.

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Around 3:30 a.m. Saturday, firefighters responded to 1200 block of Bel Air Road for the report of a building fire and found two different buildings ablaze, according to the fire marshal’s office. The metal shell structures house eight businesses, and two of them were on fire.

Car shops Too Tuff to Buff and Dent Doctors both suffered direct fire damage and others sustained smoke and water damage, said senior deputy fire marshal Oliver Alkire.

According to a statement of probable cause filed in Harford County District Court, a witness said they saw a burning gas can next to a building.

At about 2:15 a.m., the documents continue, a maroon pickup is seen parked at a Wawa in the 700 block of Bel Air Road, and a man walks into the store. He bought a pack of cigarettes, a cup of coffee and 2 gallons of diesel fuel, the documents state, and pays with a $100 bill before leaving the parking lot at approximately 2:30.

About 15 minutes later, a witness saw someone “walking between both structures,” the documents state, and later saw the fires and individual leaving the scene around 3:23 a.m.

Another witness reported spotting the maroon pickup around 3:20 a.m. parked at the rear of the Park at Winters Run apartments — a short distance away from the buildings that caught fire — with its doors open and interior light on. “Approximately 5 minutes later the witness noticed fire to the rear of the building and the maroon/red truck was gone,” the documents state.

The maroon pickup is seen on surveillance video pulling back into the Wawa on Bel Air Road at around 3:30, according to the documents. After the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Department drives by the Wawa — on its way to the structure fire just over a mile away — the truck leaves.

Law enforcement was advised to be on the lookout for the truck, according to the document, and deputy fire marshals found it at the same Wawa sometime on Tuesday. It was registered to Lodeski, the documents state. According to court documents, a man matching Lodeski’s description exited the store and seemed to notice the investigators. He became nervous and walked around the truck for 15 minutes before driving off.

When the deputies attempted to make contact with Lodeski, he drove across the roadway and up a grass embankment, according to the documents.

“The subject attempted to evade the investigators by parking in a busy parking lot,” the documents state. “The subject then exited the parking lot going the wrong way. The actions were unprovoked as investigators did not activate emergency equipment at any time, in an attempt to stop the vehicle.”

Investigators noted that Lodeski and his truck matched descriptions of the man who bought the diesel fuel and the truck he drove, the documents state, but he was not immediately arrested. Later on that day, investigators learned that Lodeski was at another Wawa in the 200 block of Connolly Road in Fallston.

Maryland State Police troopers pulled over Lodeski on Business Route 1 in Bel Air and detained him, Alkire said. From there, a team of investigators from the fire marshal’s office and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested him.

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Lodeski was read his Miranda rights, but requested a lawyer, the documents state. Court documents indicate he waived the right to an attorney at his initial appearance in front of a court commissioner.

Investigators have collected evidence from the scene of the fires, Alkire said, which is undergoing testing, but they have not determined a motive for the alleged incident or Lodeski’s connection to either of the businesses.

Lodeski was a longtime Bel Air resident, but recently moved to Delaware, Alkire said. He also recently registered a handyman business at a home where he formerly lived in town.

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