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WAMC News

Long Time Great Barrington Resident with Mental History Charged in Arson Incidents

By Patrick Donges

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-974960.mp3

Great Barrington, MA – 62-year-old David A. Pixley, of Hollenbeck Avenue in Great Barrington, was arraigned Thursday afternoon in Southern Berkshire District Court on ten felony charges, including arson, in connection with events in the town which occurred Wednesday.

Early Wednesday morning, fire officials responded to the scene of two fires burning in adjacent buildings on the town's Main Street; Barrington Outfitters and the Lee Bank building.

David Scribner, news editor of the Berkshire Record, was one of the first people at the scene.

"My studio is on the third floor right at the corner of Railroad and Main. It was late at night; it was about 1:30 a.m., and I heard the fire alarm go off, and I noticed sort of a flickering light in this empty storefront, and I thought, what is that?'"

"So I went across the street and looked in the window and I said, Oh my God, there's a fire back there!" I had never seen anything like this."

In addition to the two buildings that were lit ablaze, five surrounding buildings and three cars had evidence of someone building a fire and placing accelerant. Karen Smith works at Toole Insurance Agency, one of the buildings targeted.

"It was pretty scary for people. I think that sort of thing happening in a town this size; it's very disconcerting to not only the people who work here but the people who work in the second floors."

According to Great Barrington Police Chief William Walsh, town police joined forces Wednesday with other local agencies, state police, and agents with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to pursue leads and patrol the downtown area.

The break in the case didn't come until early Thursday morning, when an officer on patrol spotted the suspect. Here's Walsh.

"Around 2 a.m. on Thursday, one officer, Victor Zucco, spots the suspect we've been looking for. He had a tire in one arm and a jug of liquid in another arm and wearing the same clothing we had viewed from a tape, and he gave chase."

"Eventually we flushed him out of some bushes as he tried to get back to his house because Zucco could identify him, he knew who he was once he saw his face, and we arrested him."

According to Scribner, Pixley is a long time Great Barrington resident. He could be found most mornings with a coffee and a muffin at Fuel coffee shop, including Thursday morning, just hours after he allegedly attempted to burn buildings just blocks away.

While he asked not to be recorded, Pixley's son, David Pixley Jr., a local attorney, said his father has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder since 1975, and recently spent time in Berkshire Medical Center's "Jones III" psychiatric ward after experiencing difficulties due to a medication adjustment.

Pixley Jr. said while he isn't sure if his father is responsible for setting the fires, he does believe he is not in his "normal" state of mind, citing paranoid behavior observed during his arraignment.

Dr. Jennifer Michaels, Medical Director at Pittsfield's Brien Center for mental health and substance abuse services, said that while fire starting is not a typical behavior of those suffering from bipolar disorder, the condition can affect the ability to control impulses.

"Perhaps one day I'm angry with someone and I might say, Oh, I'm so angry with them I'd like to hit them,' but I know I'm not going to do that because my filter or my impulsivity control in my brain is in good working condition."

"With bipolar disorder, that filter is lost or impeded. And so I may act on my thoughts or my aggressive ideas when I wouldn't normally behave that way."

Pixley is currently being held in the Berkshire County House of Corrections. Michaels said the best place for a bipolar patient who is suspected of committing a crime would be a secure location where they can also receive treatment.

Pixley Jr. indicated that his father was receiving treatment, but added that, "jail is not the right spot for him."

Pixley is due back in court Monday morning. A call to his lawyer for comment was not returned Friday afternoon.