Grand jury to hear burning case

Officials are considering putting security cameras at the bridge site.
& lt;a & gt;By NORMAN LEIGH & lt;/a & gt;
SALEM -- A 19-year-old charged in the burning of a historical covered bridge will have his case heard by a Columbiana County grand jury.
David Pingley Jr. of McCracken Road, Salem, appeared Thursday before Judge Robert Roberts of county municipal court. Pingley waived his right to a preliminary hearing and asked to be bound over to a grand jury.
Judge Roberts granted the request. He also continued the $2,500 bond on which Pingley was freed from jail after his arrest earlier this month.
The county sheriff's department charged Pingley with arson, a fourth-degree felony. He is accused of setting a Feb. 23 fire that damaged the Teegarden Centennial Covered Bridge along Eagleton Road in Salem Township.
The fire occurred just weeks after the January completion of a $295,000 project to renovate the 66-foot wooden span, built in 1876.
Accusations and accounts
Investigators probed the case for weeks, interviewing about a dozen people. A break occurred when a 15-year-old boy who said he was with Pingley alleged Pingley set fire to the bridge, Sheriff Dave Smith has said.
The 15-year-old has maintained he had nothing to do with setting the blaze.
A court document states that the sheriff's office has a written and audiotape confession from Pingley. Smith has said Pingley admitted torching the bridge "on a whim."
A passing motorist saw the fire and put it out. Had he not acted, the fire could have seriously damaged or destroyed the bridge, county officials have said. Damage was limited to flooring, a support beam and a section of wall planking.
Bob Durbin, deputy county engineer, said Thursday that estimates to repair the damage are about $1,000.
Security measures
Officials are still considering installing a security camera at the site to deter further vandalism.
At the recommendation of Salem Township Constable Dan Valentine, the county has erected signs at the bridge banning loitering there after dark.
Valentine has said the ban gives him more power to arrest people hanging out at the bridge instead of having to catch someone in the act of vandalism or arson.
Since 1988, three covered bridges in the county have been destroyed by arson.