Probe of arson suspect widens

New Jersey police to look at writings



By Nin-Hai Tseng
Times-Union staff writer

ORANGE PARK -- Evidence from the investigation into a string of arsons in Clay County has prompted involvement from New Jersey police after local authorities discovered a possible link to other crimes.

The Bridgewater Township (N.J.) Police Department will look into stacks of notes by Jason E. Bird that the Clay County Sheriff's Office confiscated during a search of his apartment in Orange Park's Eagle Harbor community.

Times-Union news partner First Coast News reported that the writings discuss murder in Bridgewater, N.J. Bird and his family lived in the area from 1997 to 2002.

Clay County sheriff's spokeswoman Mary Justino would only confirm that the entries talk about arson, people and other things, some outside Clay County. She could not disclose further details because the case is still under investigation.

"If we find writing like that, which is likely with those who are unstable, of course we're going to follow up on it," Justino said, adding that her office contacted authorities outside the county.

Bridgewater Township Police Chief Stephen Obal told The Star-Ledger yesterday that when detectives receive the writings, they will first check whether the material is dated. If so, they will analyze them to determine if the dates match those of any open investigations.

Obal told The Star-Ledger he would not speculate about any link between Bird and open murder investigations.

According to the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts, Bird was sentenced to two years of probation in May 2001 for criminal mischief/damage to property and theft by deception.

Last week, the Clay County Sheriff's Office charged Bird, 22, with nine counts of arson and one of attempted arson. His father, George Bird, contacted authorities when he said he caught his son pouring gasoline inside the parents' home in Eagle Harbor.

The arrest led to other charges later that week, including one for the burning of a 30-foot TriToon boat in January. Bird also has been charged in a series of small fires around the master-planned community in January and February.

George Bird did not return phone calls.

Justino said records indicate authorities were never called to the family's home prior to Bird's arrest. He lived at an apartment close to his parents' house.

Staff writer Nin-Hai Tseng can be reached at (904) 278-9487, or via e-mail at ntsengjacksonville.com.