Man facing murder charge in fatal Madison Twp. fire

Emergency crews were called to the Catalina Trailer Park, 6501 Germantown Road, for a structure fire about 8:06 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. One make was killed in the fire. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Emergency crews were called to the Catalina Trailer Park, 6501 Germantown Road, for a structure fire about 8:06 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020. One make was killed in the fire. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

A Madison Twp. man is facing a murder charge for allegedly starting a fatal arson fire in September.

James D. Johnson, 56, of Catalina Manufactured Home Community, was booked into the Middletown City Jail on an aggravated arson charge a few days after the Sept. 21 fire at the Germantown Road residence.

Explore1 killed in Madison Twp. fire possibly started by cigar laid on toilet paper

On Wednesday, a Butler County grand jury returned indictments of murder and two counts of aggravated arson against Johnson. Steven C. Strain, 59, was killed in the fire.

Johnson is scheduled to be arraigned by Butler County Common Pleas Judge Charles Pater on Tuesday. His bond is set at $100,000.

The trailer was engulfed in flames when deputies arrived at about 8:06 p.m. on Sept. 21. Deputies attempted to get inside to bedroom of a man trapped, but were unable to do so because of the intensity of the fire, according to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office.

ExploreCourt docs: Man threatened fire at Madison Twp. trailer before fatal blaze

At the scene, Johnson told deputies he was smoking a cigar and laid it down on a roll of toilet paper, causing a fire.

Johnson made a statement that he would burn down the trailer if he was forced to move out, according to Detective Mike Steele.

The Butler County Coroner’s Office listed Strain’s cause of death as smoke inhalation and the manner of death as an accident.

After Johnson’s arrest in September, Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said additional charges connected to Strain’s death could be considered at grand jury.

“When we get to the grand jury, I have evidence of an additional crime, that will be presented to the grand jury,” Gmoser said. “An accident to a coroner is something different than from a prosecutor with respect to criminality.”

Madison Twp. Fire Chief Kent Hall said firefighters had put out a blaze at the same trailer on Aug. 12. During that fire, three trailer park employees pulled Johnson from inside the rear door and remove him from the trailer. He is the original owner of the trailer, according to fire officials.

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