Arson suspect was escapee Rink blaze was set after a man fled Rosewood.

June 23, 1992|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Staff Writer

The man charged in the arson fire that destroyed the Sportsman Hall roller-skating rink in Arcadia Sunday morning had escaped hours earlier from a state facility for the developmentally disabled, a state mental health official said yesterday.

John Paul Zomack, 19, broke through a security window at the Rosewood Center and walked away Saturday afternoon, said Robert W. Eastridge, deputy director of public health services for the state health department.

Rosewood is in Owings Mills, about 12 miles from the roller rink. The center is run by the Developmental Disabilities Administration of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Mr. Zomack, who state health officials described as mildly retarded, had been sent to Rosewood June 4 for a court-ordered evaluation. Baltimore County Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. wanted to find out if Mr. Zomack was mentally competent to stand trial on an earlier charge of breaking and entering, Mr. Eastridge said.

Mr. Zomack has been held at the Garrison precinct on $500,000 bond since his arrest Sunday afternoon on charges connected to the roller rink fire.

The suspect, whose address was listed as the 1400 block of Hadwick Drive in Essex, is charged with arson and breaking and entering.

"His history as we know it shows no previous inclination toward pyromania or arson," said Mr. Eastridge. "It surprised everybody when we learned of his arrest."

On Saturday, Mr. Zomack went to his room at Rosewood about 2 p.m. He shut the door and turned up the volume on his radio, said Mr. Eastridge.

Sometime within the next half-hour, Mr. Zomack used a chair to smash the window sill around the unbreakable Plexiglas window, and knocked out the entire window and frame, said Mr. Eastridge.

"To our knowledge, no one has ever before been able to break out through a security window like this at Rosewood," Mr. Eastridge said.

At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Rosewood officials told Baltimore County police that a client had escaped from the building and that security personnel and staff members were searching the 255-acre complex.

About 4 p.m., Rosewood's officials told county and state police that the client had not been found and was believed to have left the grounds.

Thirteen hours later, the roller rink fire was reported. Dozens of firefighters from Baltimore and Carroll counties battled the blaze for two hours before bringing it under control at 7:03 a.m. Sunday.

Three cinder block walls and heaps of rubble are all that remain of the 33-year-old building at 15500 Hanover Pike, near the Carroll County line.

Shortly after the fire broke out, witnesses saw a man running from the building, said police spokesman E. Jay Miller.

Mr. Zomack, walking along Mount Carmel Road, was picked up about 9 a.m. by a state trooper who was patrolling the area outside Hampstead in Carroll County, Mr. Miller said.

The trooper, who stopped Mr. Zomack because he was acting "suspiciously," took him to the fire scene, where detectives questioned him and obtained evidence that prompted the arrest, Mr. Miller said.

Before the breaking and entering arrest that sent him to Rosewood, Mr. Zomack spent the past two years in a program run by Community Based Alternative Initiative, a private, non-profit agency that contracts with the state to provide housing for the developmentally disabled. Mr. Zomack also attended school while living in one of CBAI's apartments, said Jesse H. Grimm, the organization's project director.

At the apartment, CBAI provided 24-hour on-site supervision of clients, with three staff members working eight-hour shifts.

Mr. Grimm said Mr. Zomack never gave the program any problems of the type related to his arrest on the arson charges.

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