Egg Harbor arsonist pleads guilty to burning home with three people inside

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TOMS RIVER, NJ – Egg Harbor Township, pled guilty before the Honorable Guy P. Ryan, J.S.C., to one count of Aggravated Arson – by purposely or knowingly placing another in danger of death or bodily injury – in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1a(1), as well as a second count of Aggravated Arson – with purpose to destroy the building or structure of another – in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1a(2), relative to an incident that occurred in Lakewood Township on August 22, 2020.  Additionally, Preston pled guilty to an unrelated charge of Unlawful Possession of a Weapon in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5d, relating to an incident that occurred two days earlier in Berkeley Township on August 20, 2020.  At the time of his sentencing on February 25, 2022, the State will seek a term of seven years New Jersey State Prison (NJSP), subject to the terms of the No Early Release Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2, with respect to the arson charge associated with danger of death/bodily injury to another, as well as a flat seven-year prison term with regard to the arson charge relating to Preston’s purpose to destroy the building/structure of another.  The State will also seek a term of eighteen months NJSP as to the weapon charge.  All sentences are to run concurrently.

On August 22, 2020, Officers from the Lakewood Township Police Department responded to a report of a fire at a residence in Lakewood.  An investigation by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crime Unit-Arson Squad, Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit, Ocean County Fire Marshal’s Office, and New Jersey State Fire Marshal’s K-9 Unit, determined that the fire had been intentionally set utilizing an ignitable liquid and an open flame.  Further investigation determined that Preston intentionally set the fire while the residence was occupied by three individuals.  Preston fled the scene, but was arrested at a motel in Absecon by the United States Marshals Service on August 31, 2020.  He has been lodged in the Ocean County Jail since the date of his apprehension.

On August 20, 2020, Preston was involved in an altercation with another individual in the Manitou Park section of Berkeley Township.  When Officers from the Berkeley Township Police Department responded to the scene, Preston was found to be in possession of a knife.  He was taken into custody, charged on a summons, and released pending a future court date.

Prosecutor Billhimer commends the diligent efforts of Senior Assistant Prosecutor Meghan O’Neill who is handling the case on behalf of the State, as well as the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crime Unit-Arson Squad, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office High Tech Crime Unit, Lakewood Township Police Department, Lakewood Township Police Department Detective Bureau, Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit, Ocean County Fire Marshal’s Office, New Jersey State Fire Marshal’s K-9 Unit, United States Marshals Service, Egg Harbor Township Police Department Detective Bureau, Berkeley Township Police Department, Berkeley Township Police Department Detective Bureau, and South Toms River Police Department, for their collaborative assistance in connection with this investigation leading to Preston’s apprehension, guilty pleas, and soon his state prison sentence.