Coatesville police yesterday arrested a 22-year-old man and charged him with homicide in the death of an 83-year-old woman in a house fire.
George Donkewicz, of the 1000 block of Lafayette Street, Coatesville, was charged with criminal homicide, second- and third-degree murder, arson, and other charges, according to the criminal complaint.
Irene Kempest, a widow who had been imprisoned in a German work camp during World War II, died Monday as a result of the fire at her home early Sunday in the unit block of Strode Avenue in the city's West End section. The fire was the latest in a string of arsons in that area.
At his arraignment yesterday before District Court Judge Grover Koon, Donkewicz, a short, husky man wearing jeans and a pale-beige Nike hoodie, told the judge he had dropped out of high school when he was a senior and was unemployed.
He said he was taking medication for depression and living with his mother, Alesia Twyman, who was also in the courtroom.
"I'm hearing voices, and I have thoughts of killing myself," he told the judge when asked whether he had any questions.
Police said video surveillance linked Donkewicz to the fire, and he was taken into custody around 5 a.m. yesterday in the 500 block of West Lincoln Highway.
Donkewicz was cooperating with police in solving the other suspected arsons, authorities said.
The call about the Kempest fire came in around 12:20 a.m. Sunday, Coatesville Fire Chief Kevin Johnson said.
He said Kempest was unconscious when firefighters found her in an upstairs room. She was taken to Brandywine Hospital and died the next day of smoke inhalation, Chester County Coroner Robert Satriale said.
Kempest was born in Poland and brought to the city by Victor Tiscoglio, a Coatesville businessman who hired her after she returned to Poland from a German work camp, her friend Paula Pennypacker said.
Pennypacker said Kempest and her late husband, Stanley, were longtime members of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish.
"All of us are heartsick over this," said Pennypacker, also a member of the parish. "It's disheartening that we lost one of our own in such a horrible manner when we are getting ready to celebrate the birth of Christ and the Prince of Peace."
Johnson said that in the last year and a half, 10 to 15 fires had been set on porches in the West End but that until yesterday there had been no injuries.
"Several have had significant damage," he said. "One home was totally destroyed."
Recently, the frequency of the fires had started to accelerate, he said. In the last few days, there were four fires, including the one that killed Kempest, he said.
Because of the severity of the charges, no bail was set for Donkewicz. He was sent to Chester County prison to await his preliminary hearing on Dec. 15.