Suspect in rink arson fire had fled state facility

The man charged in the arson fire that destroyed the Sportsman Hall roller-skating rink in Arcadia Sunday morning had escaped hours earlier from a state facility for the developmentally disabled, a state mental health official said yesterday.

John Paul Zomack, 19, broke through a security window at the Rosewood Center and walked away Saturday afternoon, said Robert W. Eastridge, deputy director of public health services for the state health department. Rosewood is in Owings Mills, about 12 miles from the roller rink in Arcadia.


The center is run by the Developmental Disabilities Administration of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Mr. Zomack, who state health officials described as mildly retarded, had been sent to Rosewood on June 4 for a court-ordered evaluation. Judge James T. Smith Jr. of the Baltimore County Circuit Court wanted to find out if Mr. Zomack was mentally competent to stand trial on a separate charge of breaking and entering, Mr. Eastridge said.


Mr. Zomack is being held at the Garrison precinct on $500,000 bond, after his arrest Sunday afternoon in connection with the roller rink fire. Mr. Zomack, whose address was listed as the 1400 block of Hadwick Drive, Essex, has been charged with arson and breaking and entering.

"His history as we know it shows no previous inclination toward pyromania or arson," said Mr. Eastridge. "It surprised everybody when we learned of his arrest."

On Saturday, Mr. Zomack went to his room at Rosewood around 2 p.m. He shut the door and turned up the volume on his radio, said Mr. Eastridge. Sometime within the next half-hour, Mr. Zomack used a chair to smash the window sill around the unbreakable Plexiglas window, knocking out the entire window and frame, said Mr. Eastridge.

"To our knowledge no one has ever before been able to break out through a security window like this at Rosewood," Mr. Eastridge said.

At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Rosewood officials told Baltimore County police that a client had escaped from the building and that security personnel and staff members were searching the 255-acre complex. Around 4 p.m., Rosewood's officials told county and state police that the client had not been found and was believed to have left the grounds.

Thirteen hours later, the roller rink fire was reported. Dozens of firefighters from Baltimore and Carroll counties battled the blaze for two hours before bringing it under control at 7:03 a.m. Sunday. Three cinder block walls and heaps of rubble are all that remain of the 33-year-old building at 15500 Hanover Pike, near the Carroll County line.

Shortly after the roller rink fire broke out, witnesses saw a man running from the building, said police spokesman E. Jay Miller. Mr. Zomack, walking along Mount Carmel Road, was picked up around 9 a.m. by a state trooper patrolling the area outside Hampstead in Carroll County, Mr. Miller said.

The trooper, who stopped Mr. Zomack because he was acting "suspiciously," took him to the fire scene, where detectives questioned him and obtained evidence prompting the arrest, Mr. Miller said.


Before the breaking and entering arrest that sent him to Rosewood, Mr. Zomack spent the past two years in a program run by Community Based Alternative Initiative, a private, non-profit agency that contracts with the state to provide housing for the developmentally disabled. Mr. Zomack also attended school while living in one of CBAI's apartments, said Jesse H. Grimm, project director for CBAI.

At the apartment, CBAI provided 24-hour on-site supervision, with three staff members working eight-hour shifts. Mr. Grimm also said Mr. Zomack never presented the program with any problems of the type related to his arrest on arson charges.