Man Guilty for Fire That Killed Pennsylvania Chief

An Elizabeth man who was arrested for starting a fire in the borough that triggered Elizabeth fire Chief Leonard Bailey's fatal heart attack in September 2007 has pleaded guilty and will serve six to 12 years in prison and three years probation as part of his settlement agreement.

Rodger Leroy Matthews, 50, who was arrested by Allegheny County police last August, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, arson, causing or risking a catastrophe, recklessly endangering another person, burglary and two counts of criminal mischief.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Jill E. Rangos approved the plea agreement.

The charge of involuntary manslaughter had been filed as criminal homicide.

Allegheny County District Attorney's office spokesman Mike Manko said prosecutors agreed to the reduced charge because of the unique set of circumstances surrounding the death of Bailey.

Matthews is said to have gone to the home of the chief after he'd started a fire at Phield's Bar along Water Street on Sept. 12 to tell Bailey about the blaze. The chief - whose family once owned the bar - ran to see the fire, which was just down the street from his home, and then ran back to his house to grab his radio. The chief suffered a fatal heart attack as he headed back to the fire.

"The death did not occur in the fire," Manko said.

In their case against Matthews, prosecutors had alleged that Matthews started the blaze inside the bar to destroy evidence of a burglary he and another man allegedly committed at the bar a few days earlier.

Matthews' alleged accomplice, Jeff Kennedy, 29, of Elizabeth, faces charges of burglary, criminal mischief, receiving stolen property, and three counts of criminal conspiracy for his reported involvement in the matter. Kennedy is scheduled to appear before Rangos May 22 for a pre-trial conference.

Republished with permission of The Daily News.