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Police nab suspect in string of car arsons

A series of car fires and criminal mischief involving about a dozen vehicles that occurred during two summer nights in Amherst's Sheridan Drive-North Forest Road area was solved Thursday, police say, with the arrest of a 25-year-old Cheektowaga man.

Jason P. Hamilton, of Cherokee Drive, was charged with eight car fires and criminal mischief involving at least three other vehicles from July 28 and Aug. 8.

"We had two detectives assigned to it full time, and they followed up on dozens of tips from the public," Amherst Detective Lt. Richard Walter said. "They followed them up relentlessly. One of those anonymous tips led us to Hamilton."

Amherst Detectives David Kubiak and Thomas Ratzel developed information that led Town Justice Geoffrey K. Klein to issue a search warrant for Hamilton's apartment.

Officers from Amherst and Cheektowaga entered the residence Thursday night, arrested Hamilton and confiscated suspected evidence from the fires, plus some illegal knives and throwing stars, police said. Hamilton was arraigned Friday in Amherst Town Court and was being held in lieu of $100,000 bail.

The wave of summertime arsons and criminal mischiefs started on July 28, when police investigated a car fire on Cindy Drive and three instances of criminal mischief involving vehicles on Cindy, West Maplemere Road and Sunrise Boulevard.

Then early on the morning of Aug. 8, police fielded reports of seven car fires in other normally quiet areas on both sides of Sheridan Drive, not far from North Forest Road. Those car fires were reported in the Devon Lane area, south of Sheridan, and the Cindy Drive area, on the north side.

Detectives now believe that a third night of criminal mischief incidents, on Aug. 5, was not related to the other two series of incidents.

Amherst police alerted the public to the crime spree after the Aug. 8 incidents.

Top Amherst officials pointed out that the department investigates hundreds of car break-ins each year and that the first two waves of incidents occurred in different neighborhoods on opposite sides of Sheridan Drive.

Hamilton was charged with eight counts of third-degree arson and multiple counts of criminal mischief in Amherst. Police said he also will be charged with four weapons counts in Cheektowaga.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com

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