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Accused arsonist may be linked to burglary

A Dickinson man accused of committing arson and burglary at the Church of Christ may also be linked to a Thursday residential burglary, according to the Dickinson Police Department.

"It's likely, but we can't verify that," Capt. Joe Cianni said Friday. "He's not been willing to speak with investigators since his arrest."

Joshua Whitworth, 21, was arrested and charged with arson, burglary and theft of property Thursday. He allegedly broke into the Church of Christ, stole about $130 and started a fire to destroy evidence, according to his criminal complaint.

A fire also ignited at Hillside Baptist Church Thursday, but authorities say the fire was accidental and unrelated.

The home that was broken into is on the same street as the Church of Christ, Capt. Dustin Dassinger said.

"It looks like the basement window had been broken and someone had ransacked one of the rooms in the basement," Dassinger said. "As far as the homeowner could tell, nothing had been taken.

"They did cut the power off in the residence, shutting the breaker off."

Cambyr Whitworth, Joshua Whitworth's older sister was on her way to pick him up as he was being taken into police custody and said Friday she believes the Church of Christ fire was an accident.

"I think he was just trying to warm up and something happened," she said. "I know my brother and he's made a lot of mistakes and nobody's perfect but I really don't think he would do something like that on purpose."

Judge sets bond Friday

Southwest District Judge William Herauf set Joshua Whitworth's bond at $20,000 cash, following a recommendation from Rhonda Ehlis, Stark County assistant state's attorney.

Joshua Whitworth appeared over interactive television from the Southwest Multi County Correction Center in Dickinson while the hearing was held at the Stark County Courthouse.

Other than officials, nobody attended the hearing.

"From looking at his record, I see several prior convictions for theft of property, I see a prior conviction for fleeing a police officer," Ehlis said.

He has had 25 bench warrants issued for his arrest in 11 cases since August 2007 because of his failure to appear at hearings, Ehlis said.

"So what that is telling me and what I'm telling the court is that Mr. Whitworth is a definite flight risk," Ehlis said.

Whitworth asked if the bond could be lowered.

"Well I don't plan on running or anything," he said. "I just want to be able to be home and see my family because I know I'm going to get time for this..."

However, Herauf said $20,000 was warranted because he is a flight risk and the seriousness of the charges.

Whitworth said he wouldn't be able to post that much money and after the hearing, his sister agreed.

"There's no way we're going to be able to come up with that," Cambyr Whitworth said. "It is disappointing, though, because if anything I'd like to try to get him out on the circumstances that he go to treatment."

She said he lives with their mother and he was walking home from his girlfriend's house when the incident occurred.

Joshua Whitworth allegedly told police he broke into the church to get out of the cold.

"I think when he got to that area, he wanted to get out of the cold for a few minutes and I think one thing led to another," Cambyr Whitworth said.

Fire damage severe

Dickinson Fire Department Chief Bob Sivak said damage cost estimates are still not available.

There was extensive fire damage to the attic in one room of the Hillside Baptist Church, Sivak said.

Damage at the Church of Christ was more severe.

"There is heavy fire damage to the main floor office area and then that extended outside through a window," Sivak said, adding the fire spread to the attic, causing extensive damage.

Though authorities said Thursday no injuries occurred during either fire, Sivak retracted that, saying a DPD officer sustained minor injuries.

Officer Tom Grosz fell trying to put out the fire. He climbed a step ladder and used an extinguisher on the fire in the attic at Hillside Baptist Church, Sivak said.

"I just figured, while we are here and the fire department's not here yet and flames were spreading pretty fast, so I just figured I could knock it down for a second before the fire department got there," Grosz said. "The leg on the ladder just buckled while I was on it."

He drove himself to the hospital and had bumps and bruises from the fall, Grosz said.

"His actions, although it didn't extinguish the fire, really knocked it back to a point where we were able to gain control of it fairly readily once we got there," Sivak said.

The Hillside Baptist Church hired a company to clean up the fire damage, said Jawayne Sahr, administrative assistant.

Members of the Church of Christ are leaving the building the way it is until an insurance adjuster can look at it, said Dean Adams, church member and preacher.

"We just secured and boarded it up the best we can," Adams said. "Once you realize 'OK, this is something that actually happened to us,' you just get into the moving forward mode, which is where we're at.

"We're a close knit group and we draw encouragement from each other and that way we just focus on moving forward from here."