Four members of a Clinton family narrowly escaped from their burning home, and hours later a 17-year-old youth was charged as an adult with arson and four counts of attempted murder in the incident.
Investigators and prosecutors said the Thursday fire was part of an extortion attempt that grew out of the youth's failed efforts to date a member of the family.
William Smith of Waldorf, Md., was ordered held without bond for a psychological evaluation.
The examination was ordered by Prince George's District Court Judge Francis Borelli, who said during a hearing for Smith, "I hate to see a minor in jail. This type of charge really worries me."
Assistant State's Attorney Dorianne Avery said at the hearing that the fire was set at the home of the Gerald Mueller family at 3701 Blackwater Rd. because the Muellers had objected to Smith dating their 15-year-old daughter.
Smith "threatened to wipe out the family if they didn't pay him $10,000," Avery said.
The fire, which caused an estimated $90,000 in damage, started about 2 a.m. Thursday, according to fire department spokesman Anthony DeStefano. "Had the family not been awakened by a smoke detector, they would have had no means of escape from the house," DeStefano said. "Their only means of escape would have been blocked. They had to come right through fire to get out as it was." Smith was arrested at his home about 11:30 p.m. Thursday.
A juvenile charge was pending against him based on the alleged threat, and he had showed up in Prince George's Juvenile Court earlier that day for a hearing on that charge, Avery said. But she said the case was continued because the prosecuting witnesses -- the Muellers -- did not appear.
At the time, the Muellers were busy with the Prince George's Red Cross, which was offering the family coats, shoes, clothing and temporary shelter in a motel.
Assistant State's Attorney Norman F. Kiger said preliminary investigation by the fire department shows that the fire was started with a flammable liquid. "You could see the pour patterns," Kiger said. "You don't usually see those when fires are not deliberately set."
Elvira White, Smith's attorney, sought unsuccessfully to have Judge Borelli set a bond for Smith. White noted that Smith had no criminal record and is 17 years old.