By Kathi Bliss
A series of fires in December 2008 and January 2009 have led to felony charges being filed against a Lockhart-area resident with deep ties to the fire service community, and his wife.
Jason Doyle, 37, and Kelly Doyle, 27, were both indicted by a Caldwell County Grand Jury last week on multiple counts of Arson and Child Endangerment.
The charges, according to Caldwell County District Attorney Trey Hicks’ office, stem from two fires in the Doyles’ home in Lockhart on Dec. 30, 2008 and Jan. 1, 2009, and another fire that destroyed a residence on J. Doyle’s parents’ property on FM 671 on Jan. 6, 2009.
Hicks said the Doyles’ children were both present in the home when the fire was allegedly set on Dec. 30, 2009, which opened the door to the Child Endangerment charges.
Shortly after the fires, the Doyle family came under heavy scrutiny, because Doyle’s father, Lockhart Fire Chief Jerry Doyle, was the acting fire marshal at the time of the Lockhart fires, and his initial investigation of the incidents suggested the fires were accidental.
Sources close to the grand jury session suggest the elder Doyle was cleared of possible criminal involvement in covering up his son and daughter-in-law’s alleged illegal activities.
Hicks said Friday that the couple each faced two charges of Arson as a Second Degree Felony in connection with the Dec. 30 and Jan. 6, fires. Those charges carry a sentence of 2 – 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 per count.
The Jan. 1, 2009, fire led to charges of Arson as a First Degree Felony. That charge carries a steeper penalty, the possibility of 5 – 99 years behind bars and a fine of up to $10,000. Hicks suggested the charges in connection with that fire were enhanced because a Travis County firefighter called to offer mutual aid to the Lockhart Fire Department was injured while battling the fire.
Child Endangerment is a State Jail Felony, which carries a penalty of 180 days – 2 years in the custody, and a fine of up to $10,000.
At the time of the incidents, J. Doyle was employed as a firefighter in Victoria, Texas. He was initially arrested and charged in connection with the fires in May 2009.
Shortly after the second fire, the State Fire Marshal’s Office was called to investigate the situation with the assistance of the Texas Rangers, because the natures of the fires aroused suspicion and the suspect was a relative of the acting Fire Marshal.
Since that time, the City of Lockhart, under the direction of Lockhart City Manager Vance Rodgers, has been cooperating with the investigation. He said in May that an administrative investigation into the elder Doyle’s role was pending, but was being postponed until the criminal investigation had concluded.
Rodgers said on Monday he is “aware” of the Grand Jury’s decision, but declined to offer further comment on the proceedings.