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Serial Arsonist NJ/FL

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  • Serial Arsonist NJ/FL

    Ex-Bridgewater man charged in arson

    Fla. authorities find writings on other crimes

    Friday, July 04, 2003

    Star-Ledger Staff

    Bridgewater police are awaiting information from Florida authorities who have arrested on arson charges a former township man who allegedly kept a "voluminous" journal of his criminal activities.

    Local authorities are not sure if any of the activities detailed in the journal are linked to similar unsolved crimes in the area, and won't know until they review the suspect's writings.

    Jason E. Bird, 22, formerly of Kershaw Court in Bridgewater, was arrested two weeks ago in Clay County and charged with criminal mischief after he was caught trying to set fire to the Eagle Harbor home of his parents on June 21. Bird's father, George Bird, caught his son pouring gasoline inside the home and called police.

    He was additionally charged with setting a series of small fires at Eagle Harbor in January and February. After his arrest, Bird was hit with eight additional counts of arson in connection with setting fires in January and February, including torching a boat.

    Police investigating the arsons found personal journals in Bird's Orange Park home, writings that prompted them to contact Bridgewater officials.

    Mary Justino, spokeswoman for the Clay County Sheriff's Office, said the writings mentioned various places and things, including fire and arson, but she would not give further details because the case is still under investigation. She said it has not been determined if the writings link Bird to other crimes.

    "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. "All the information has been passed along to those who are mentioned."

    Bridgewater Police Chief Stephen Obal said detectives in his department were contacted about the writings

    "We're still waiting for the information they're going to send to us," Obal said. "We need to take a look at the entries Mr. Bird allegedly made in his journals and do some investigating to see whether or not they are accurate entries."

    Obal said his detectives were told there were "a number of things" in the journal that were mentioned by the Florida authorities, but added he does not know if there are references to specific local crimes that have not been solved.

    "We have to take a look to see if he has dated these materials and look at the records we have of any open investigations to see if there's anything that could be connected to Mr. Bird," Obal said. "They told us they have voluminous entries."

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

    Somerset County Prosecutor Wayne Forrest said he hasn't spoken to anyone from Florida. He said all contact has been between Florida authorities and Bridgewater police.

    "They called Bridgewater police and advised them about the case, that they had a person from Bridgewater and that they had a lot of materials to go through," Forrest said. "They said they will be in further contact with us if any of it is relevant to any pending investigations we have here."

    A former neighbor of the Birds, Theresa Barrett, said she was shocked by the revelations about Jason Bird's alleged criminal activities. She described the Birds as a "nice, helpful family, they kept their property very nice."

    She said Jason may have been a volunteer firefighter or emergency medical technician. She said he drove a truck with a blue emergency light and had an insignia on the license plate.

    In Florida, Bird lived in an apartment close to his parents' home. He stayed with his parents frequently, but Clay County Undersheriff Brian Bishop said authorities were never called to the home until June 23, when George Bird called to report his son was pouring gasoline at the family's home.

    "There was nothing there to indicate a problem," Bishop said. "He got along fine with his parents and stayed there often." He was charged with criminal mischief, but later had the charge upgraded to attempted arson. Bishop said authorities could consider attempted murder charges against Bird

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