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Man started fire in estranged wife's apartment building, police say

Posted at 10:48 PM, Feb 18, 2017

DELHI TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- One Delhi Township family said they would sleep a bit easier Saturday after the man they said tried to kill them was put behind bars.

Delhi Township police arrested David Russell, 44, after they said he tried to light his estranged wife's apartment complex on fire.

The fire started in the basement. Neighbor Jayson Walker woke up to the sound of the smoke alarm Saturday morning. He noticed the back door was open and discovered the fire.

"It was pretty smoky, and then I opened up this door and then I thought, 'Oh wow,' and that's when I told her to call 911," Walker said.

Police responded to the scene.

"When the officers arrived on scene along with the fire department, it just didn't appear to be a normal fire," Cpl. Brad Doerger said. "There were some things at the scene … that threw a red flag for us."

The fire started in the basement of the complex, according to police. They said in court records that gasoline and paper towels were used. A wooden skid, sheet of drywall and mason block were scorched in the fire.

Their investigation led police to Russell, the stepfather of Yolanda Gardener, whose mother and family live in the complex.

"They told us that they found rags and the gasoline in his backseat, and then they got a search warrant, and that's when they were able to see that the clothes he had on had gasoline," she said.

Gardener said Russell and her mother were in the process of getting a divorce. She said he was angry and had been stalking them.

"I know he's been crazy," Gardener said. "He's been doing other stuff like putting sugar in the tank, but this is a whole other level."

Russell was charged with six counts of first-degree aggravated arson. Doerger said Russell was charged on six counts because there were six people inside the apartment complex.

"It's very serious," Doerger said.

Walker said the fire was started right under his children's bedroom.

"You can hear them, it's right above," he said.

Gardener, who is six months pregnant, said she would sleep easier now.

"I don't need to have something happen to me and the baby," she said. "And he's just continuing to do all these violent threats and text messages and all these different things, so I'm just relieved."

Russell was being held in the Hamilton County Justice Center. Police said, because of the seriousness of the crime, there's a possibility he may not be released on bond.