Clearfield, PA – A Clearfield man who is facing charges for allegedly setting fire to his apartment in order to file a false insurance claim has waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
41-year-old Heath Austin has been charged with five counts of felony arson and danger of death or bodily injury, plus one felony count each of arson and intent to destroy an unoccupied building, arson with intent to collect insurance, reckless burning or exploding, and causing catastrophe. He also faces additional charges of recklessly endangering another person, criminal mischief and false or fraud insurance claims.
First responders in Clearfield were sent to a structure fire with possible entrapment on April 3 at an apartment building on East Pine Street. Officers found several tenants already outside the building, but a deaf male, later identified as Austin, was thought to still be inside his apartment. Police broke down the locked door. Although the apartment was filled with smoke, no one was inside.
The fire was contained to Austin’s first floor apartment. It was quickly extinguished. A Pennsylvania State Fire Marshal investigated the case and found that the fire had been intentionally set. It reportedly started in a laundry basket filled with clothing and fuel.
Austin had filed an insurance claim saying that he had lost numerous items in the fire, including a large amount of clothing. However, when police took photos of the apartment immediately after the fire, there was no clothing in any drawers or dressers. Austin filed a claim in the amount of $34,259.20, close to the maximum that he could had filed on his policy, $36,300.
During part of the investigation on April 24, Austin reportedly admitted that he started the fire using a lighter to ignite a shirt in his laundry basket because he was having a hard time financially.
There’s no word yet on when Austin’s next court date will be.