ALFRED – Carol Field, the grandmother from Standish who is charged with being a serial arsonist, will remain in jail on $100,000 bail because of the threat she poses to public safety, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Field, 65, appeared in York County Superior Court to face two charges of arson and to seek lower bail. She was arrested Friday, charged with setting fires in Raymond, Waterboro and Limerick.
The matronly suspect, listed at 5 feet 1 inch and 170 pounds, was taken into custody at her home days after a tracking device was placed on her car. The device showed that she drove to the place where a fire was set Sept. 27, off Moody Road in Standish, where her car was seen.
After a long interview with investigators Friday, Field was cooperative as she was driven around York and Cumberland counties to confirm details about a total of 15 fires she had set, authorities said.
At one of those fires, on Sept. 15 in a barn on Doles Ridge Road in Limerick, firefighters had to take cover behind firetrucks as ammunition stored inside started to explode, according to court papers.
Perhaps the most severe fire was one that did $200,000 worth of damage to the Raymond Hill Baptist Church on July 26.
Field’s attorney, J.P. DeGrinney, who represented her in a shoplifting case earlier this year, said she will plead not guilty and is entitled to be released on bail.
DeGrinney said Field’s bail should be lowered to $50,000 surety, which would allow her to post her house to ensure she would show up for her next scheduled court appearance, on Dec. 23.
“She’s a sweet old lady that would never harm anyone,” DeGrinney said after the hearing. “It’s fair to be concerned about the state of her mental health at this point in time.”
Superior Court Justice Paul Fritzsche ruled that bail should remain high. He said there is no guarantee, given the possibility that Field has psychological problems, that she will not resume setting fires.
“Untreated and unsecured, whatever problems are existing for her could simply reoccur and someone else could be in jeopardy,” Fritzsche said.
Field is being held in the York County Jail.
Most people accused of setting fires are young males with a history of fire-setting. Field would not have drawn suspicion without dogged detective work that included placing the tracking device on her car.
According to an affidavit prepared by Daniel Young, senior investigator with the state Fire Marshal’s Office, investigators began probing a series of fires that started July 19 in Standish.
The fires initially were set in brush and later at back corners of buildings close to roads. Gasoline was used to start each fire, Young said.
The first break in the case came Sept. 16, when a vacant house burned in Limerick and a witness saw a blue Chevrolet Cavalier and a license plate number. The plate number did not correspond to such a car, but Cumberland County sheriff’s deputies were asked to keep an eye open for a car matching that description in the Standish area.
Deputy Anthony Hovey was on patrol in Raymond two days later when he pulled over a blue Cavalier driven by Field, who had been seen stealing returnable cans and bottles from a recycling bin, the court papers said.
The license plate number was one digit off that of the vehicle seen in Limerick, but the plates were assigned to a different car. Field had her car towed home, but the lead gave investigators enough to obtain a search warrant allowing them to place the tracking device on her Cavalier.
Another fire broke out Sept. 22 near propane tanks behind Plummers Hardware in Waterboro. Two witnesses reported that a woman with a white car poured gasoline on a pile of papers and ignited it, then drove to a nearby parking lot and watched. When the fire died down, she returned to add paper, trying to get the dry grass to catch fire, the witnesses said.
One of the witnesses later identified Field in a photo lineup as the suspect.
Assistant State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said people who set fires and then watch them often have an unhealthy fascination with fire. “Usually that’s what we associate with a pyromaniac, because there’s a fixation with the fire, not the action of the fire,” he said.
Prosecutors asked the court to order a psychological assessment of Field as a condition of bail. Her attorney argued that any move for a psychological evaluation should be at her request and could be in connection with her defense.
Assistant District Attorney John Connelly said that as part of the bail evaluation, the court might want to consider Field’s mental state in determining the level of risk she poses to the community.
DeGrinney said afterward that Field has medical issues, including severe back pain, and has mental health issues, although he would not elaborate.
Field worked for much of her life as a nurse in hospitals and as a private nurse. She most recently worked at a Subway sandwich shop, DeGrinney said. She is a lifelong Mainer with many family members in the area, although none was in court Tuesday.
Her daughter, Lisa Henry of North Waterboro, said Tuesday night that the crimes Field is accused of are totally out of character. “This is not a mother or grandmother that we know,” she said.
Henry said her mother worked as a nurse for many years, and as a caregiver. She has a lot of stress in her life, Henry said, including health issues and the financial challenges of living on Social Security. But she could think of nothing at the start of the summer that might have triggered such acts.
Henry said she heard about the barn fire near her house, and she lost power when it happened. She has yet to fathom that her mother may have been responsible, she said.
Investigators decided to arrest Field after the tracking device showed her driving in the area of an abandoned factory in Standish. Two public works employees saw the blue Cavalier there, and when they approached, the driver sped off. They found a fire in the woods about 70 feet off the road, in a teepee of kindling and paper towels.
“Now we know for sure we’re looking at something we would consider a public safety hazard,” Thomas said. “We knew it was time then to make a move to . . . get her off the street.”
On Tuesday, Field was arraigned in York County on two arson charges. She has yet to appear in Cumberland County to face a charge of arson in the Raymond Hill Baptist Church fire.
After the church fire, investigators set up a roadblock in the Raymond Hill area, stopping drivers to ask if they had seen anything unusual, said Sgt. Joel Davis of the Fire Marshal’s Office.
“It’s not suspicious to see an old woman sitting in her car in the cemetery, or collecting bottles and cans beside the road, which she did,” he said.
Davis said that because they were small fires and there was no apparent connection between Field and the properties that were burned, she may have been seeking attention.
Field’s criminal record includes convictions for impersonating a police officer in 1976, perjury in 1977, furnishing drugs in 1983, theft in 1997, theft in 2010 and furnishing liquor to a minor in March.
Arson is punishable by as much as 30 years in prison, although historically, sentences are less if nobody is injured.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org