A Pennsylvania man has been accused of stealing his roommate’s car and driving two hours to her parents’ home to set a trio of fires that killed the woman’s father, authorities said.
During a news conference on Monday, a top prosecutor in Bucks County said that Christopher Gillie, 61, had driven to the home of his roommate’s elderly parents and set a group of fires which snuffed out the life of 81-year-old Julius Drelick, who was unable to escape the blaze. Gillie has been slapped with several charges, including criminal homicide, arson, and burglary.
“I cannot imagine the terror that they both must have felt as they were separated by the fire," Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub said during a news conference on Monday. “Now, forever.”
In her devastating account of the deadly fire, Phyllis Drelick told detectives with the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office and the Buckingham Township Police Department that she remembered waking up to the sound of a smoke detector going off as she and her husband slept upstairs at roughly 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, according to an affidavit of probable cause for his arrest obtained by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
According to Drelick, she was halfway down the stairs in a chair lift to check on the detector, when a power outage stemming from the fire cut electricity to the chair, which the couple depended on to navigate between floors of their home.
After she somehow managed to reach the ground floor, Drelick said she couldn’t send the chair back up to her husband who was trapped upstairs.
“I can’t stop thinking about that chair lift frozen in place by the fire in the middle of the stairs,” Weintraub said on Monday. “The defendant’s intentional fire caused the electrical short to the chairlift just after Mrs. Drelick used it to escape the fire and prevented Mr. Drelick from doing the same thing.”
As heat and smoke from the fire began to overwhelm her, Drelick went to get help from a neighbor, the affidavit states. Bucks County Emergency Communications Center said they received a report about the fire at 3:07 a.m.
When officers arrived at the scene minutes later, they found Phyllis Drelick outside of their home where she alerted them that her husband was still trapped inside, according to a news release.
The Drelicks’ house was so badly choked by smoke and flames that firefighters were initially unable to enter. When they eventually made their way inside, crews discovered Julius Drelick upstairs where he was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.
The elderly couple’s daughter, Lisa King, told investigators that her car and keys were missing and that Gillie, her roommate, was nowhere to be found.
Surveillance footage appeared to show King’s light-colored SUV pulling into the Drelicks’ driveway at approximately 2:04 a.m. on Sunday morning before pulling away about an hour later, authorities said.
When Dunmore police later pulled Gillie over in King’s car hours later, “a strong odor of gasoline” was palpable inside the car, and a lighter was spotted in the seat next to him.
Gillie allegedly told police who stopped him that he was drunk and had keys to the Drelicks’ home in his possession. According to the affidavit, he also had an old rifle which investigators said had been hanging above the couple’s fireplace mantle, in the same room where they had detected the source of one of the fires.
Gillie was arraigned Monday and sent to Bucks County Correctional Facility without bail.