Mahanoy City, Schuylkill County -- 28-year-old Joseph Yeich of Mahanoy City is jailed on a long list of charges including aggravated assault, arson, and causing or risking a catastrophe. Police say Yeich set fire to 1031 East Pine Street Wednesday night after committing a brutal crime that he claimed the devil made him do. They say before torching the house, he viciously attacked 49-year-old Elrena Gibson who owns the home and was renting a room to Yeich. "She was all bloody, her face swollen. She could hardly walk," said Heather Soult who was home next door with her husband and three children when she witnessed the badly injured woman. "I said what happened. Who did that? I'm calling the cops and she said call the cops and so I came in the house and called 911." Fellow neighbor Brendon Hasara added, "She took a good beating, I know that. She took a real good beating. It was horrible."
Mr. Hasara lives three houses from the fire scene where the victim eventually staggered and collapsed. "She came out here and was laying on the ground, covered in blood and her head was split right open." Soon afterwards, neighbors realized that Gibson's row home was on fire. "I seen glowing through the window in the basement and I said oh my God their house is on fire, too," said Ms. Soult.
The Soults were among roughly two dozen people who had to temporarily evacuate their homes as firefighters battled to douse the flames and prevent the fire from spreading. The Soult family spent the day after the fire cleaning what they could -- including shoveling broken glass and frozen water runoff from the fire fight. "Right before Christmas, you know. Our house has a lot of smoke damage, some water in the basement and we'll have to wait for people to come and clean the house and we have to find places to stay," said Ms. Soult.
Neighbors say Yeich and Gibson lived in this East Pine Street Home for about a year and during that time they say was filled with many sleepless nights. They say Yeich and Gibson got into many loud fights. "I'm scared to go to bed at night. Thank God it didn't happen at 2 or 3 in the morning when we were sleeping," said Ms. Soult who added it's tragic that it had to end like this. "It's a nuisance house and people like us suffer. It's a shame. She suffered, too, but it's us that are suffering the worse."
Ms. Gibson was listed in critical but stable condition Thursday night at Lehigh Valley Hospital. Investigators say Yeich also doused the victim with bleach. Police are investigating if Yeich was under the influence of bath salts or some other drug. He is jailed on $50,000 straight cash bail while awaiting a preliminary hearing.