Alleged arsonist’s life filled with recent heartbreak, trials

Published 9:59 am Thursday, July 9, 2009

COAL GROVE — Frustrated with the threat of eviction and the reality of being homeless, authorities allege Jonna Turley hit a snapping point Tuesday night that drove her to intentionally set fire to the house she occupied. That is a theory authorities are considering.

Now the Ridgeway Street home she lived in with a friend and three children sits as a scorched reminder of the human psyche.

The front yard currently serves as a makeshift rummage sale still advertising the frame of a bedroom set and refrigerator.

A pair of decorative, now ashen-covered, dolls guard the front walkway and singed lawn. A polka-dotted, children’s stroller peers out from under the yellow barrier tape circling the property.

Hundreds of flies and the occasional wasp take turns seeking refuge from the afternoon heat in the destroyed house that reeks of charred wood.

Onlookers and cars take laps around the block for a better look at a neighborhood crime scene. And while opinions and theories of what exactly happened and why begin to develop, Turley sits in the Lawrence County Jail arrested on a charge of aggravated arson.

However, a closer look into events surrounding the 31-year-old, show a pattern of frustration and heartbreak.

The first six months of 2009 have not been kind to Turley.

In January alone, Turley’s younger sister Jana was sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to six counts of drug trafficking OxyContin and Xanax.

The younger Turley was nabbed as part of a countywide drug sweep by the Lawrence County Drug Task Force in November.

Just five months later, Jonna Turley’s mother, Rebecca, died on June 6 at the age of 55 at the Community Hospice Care Center in Ashland, Ky. Jana Turley was granted a five-day furlough from her prison sentence at the Ohio Reformatory for Women to attend the funeral.

But even before Rebecca Turley’s death, things had already been turning sour on Jonna Turley’s occupation of the property. To start, the rental agreement was under Rebecca Turley and not Jonna’s name.

Further, village records show water service to the house was turned off nearly three months ago. The house was also being considered by Coal Grove officials to be listed as a nuisance property for its upkeep.

The Lawrence County Auditor’s office lists the owner of the property as Bill Waddell of Coal Grove. Waddell did not return calls asking about the current status of the property or if eviction procedures had been initiated against the property.

When Coal Grove authorities responded to the blaze, after a brief search, they say they found Jonna Turley lying in a nearby ditch allegedly under the influence of drugs and alcohol.

Police say Turley was so incoherent that they transported the suspect to the Southern Ohio Medical Center in Portsmouth for treatment. Coal Grove Police were able to detain Turley due to an outstanding warrant in Ironton Municipal Court for driving on a suspended license.

Officials say Turley is the only suspect in the alleged arson.

The Ohio State Fire Marshal’s office said the fire was set in the living room area of the home.

They have not identified how the fire was started or what types of accelerants were used. Coal Grove Fire Chief Gary Sherman deemed the home “a total loss.”

Turley’s roommate was also injured in the blaze along with a neighbor and a Coal Grove firefighter. Sherman said all three suffered minor injuries.

Jonna Turley is scheduled to appear in Lawrence County Municipal Court on Friday.