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2014-10-16

Arson garners 50-year sentence

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Jason Robert Van Winkle's road to his latest incarceration in Texas Department of Corrections was long and winding, but at least law enforcement authorities will know where to reach him for the next half a century or so.
On Sept. 24, a Bandera County jury in the 198th Judicial District found Van Winkle guilty of arson of a vehicle. The next day, they sentenced him to 50 years in the state penitentary for his crime.
During the three-day trial, Van Winkle was accused of burning a vehicle belonging to Jaylun Melius by dousing it with an accelerant then igniting it. The vehicle fire also damaged a nearby residence.
Originally 198th Assis-tant District Attorney Donnie Coleman had sought to combine the arson charge with those of burglary of a habitation and attempted sexual assault, as well as burglary of a habitation with assault. However, with Coleman's acquiescence, the burglary and attempted sexual assault was dropped. Eventually the remaining burglary and assault charge also was severed from the arson trial.
However, the original second-degree felony of arson was enhanced to a first-degree felony due to Van Winkle's long criminal history, which began in 1994 in Kerrville. His litany of misdeeds also included three assaults with bodily injury; one burglary of a building; three burglaries of habitations; theft of property worth more than $1,500 but less than $20,000; criminal mischief; possession of a Penalty Grade 1 controlled substance; two Class C liquor violations; two counts of resisting arrest; fleeing a police officer; unlawful carrying of a weapon; carrying a prohibited weapons, such as switchblade or brass knuckles; driving with an invalid license, under a previous suspension and without proper registration; criminal trespass; and a Class C public order crime.
In 1994, Van Winkle was convicted of the theft of property crime and sentenced to one year in the TDCJ. He was sentenced to 10 years in the TDCJ for three counts of burglary of a habitation in 1995.
This latest incarceration came after the suspect was arrested in Oklahoma on March 5 while driving a stolen vehicle. At that time, outstanding warrants issued by the Bandera County Sheriff's Office indicated Van Winkle was also wanted in connection with several suspicious vehicle fires.
Former BCSO Investigator David McGilvray, along with Investigator Allan Tucker took the 12-hour, one-way trek from Texas to the Sooner State to extradite Van Winkle. He was booked into the Bandera County Jail on Wednesday, March 19.
According to Fire Marshal John Stith, at the time of his arrest, Van Winkle had already been indicted on a second-degree felony in connection with a vehicle fire that occurred on Jan. 15 on Oak Lawn in the Wharton's Dock area. Stith served as an expert witness during the recent arson trial.
At that time, Van Winkle also remained the primary suspect in a pair of vehicle fires that occurred on March 2, said Chief Deputy Matt King. The latest round of blazes destroyed a 2008 Chevrolet Impala and a 2010 Saab. The fires, which took place on Iroquois Trail, also spread to a house, according to reports. "We had very strong evidence that points to Van Winkle as the perpetrator," King said.
In May, a Bandera County Grand Jury indicted Van Winkle on a second-degree arson charge. At that time, it was speculated that the charges would be bumped up to a first-degree felony, due to Van Winkle's prior history of criminal behavior - which is what occurred.
Pleased with the verdict, King referenced Van Winkle's extensive criminal history with the BCSO. "I'm glad that justice has been served and that, hopefully, he'll be out of commission for a while."
Ironically, Van Winkle's first run-in with the law occurred in 1994 when he was caught - coincidentally - driving a stolen vehicle.