Bucks County

Elderly Man Dies in Bucks Co. Fire; Daughter's Roommate Charged With Arson

The man couldn't escape his burning home in time. His wife managed to get to safety

NBC Universal, Inc.

What to Know

  • Christopher Gillie, of the Scranton area, is accused of criminal homicide, attempted criminal homicide, burglary, arson and related counts in relation to a Buckingham Township fire.
  • Sunday morning's blaze left 81-year-old Julius Drelick dead, authorities said. He was trapped in the smoky blaze after his motorized chair lift stopped working. His wife managed to escape the fire.
  • “I cannot imagine the terror that they both must have felt as they were separated by the fire," Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub said. "Now, forever."

Just hours after an elderly man died after being trapped on the second floor of his burning Bucks County home, his daughter's roommate was charged with homicide and arson in his death.

Christopher Gillie of Dunmore, Pennsylvania, was arrested while driving an SUV belonging to the victim's daughter, according to the police report. Gillie smelled strongly of gasoline and had a lighter next to him in the car, as well as the victim's house keys in his pocket, police said.

Gillie, 61, was charged with criminal homicide, attempted homicide, arson, burglary and related charges, according to court documents and a criminal complaint obtained by NBC10.

The fire broke out at about 3 a.m. Sunday at the 5700 block of Private Drive in the Doylestown section of Buckingham Township. Neighbors called after being woken up by screams, the Buckingham Township Police Department said in a news release.

Those screams for help came from the 85-year-old wife of Julius Drelick, who escaped the burning home -- but knew Drelick was still inside, the criminal complaint said.

Drelick and his wife couldn't easily move about their home and were in their second floor bedroom after 2 a.m. Sunday when they were awoken by a car in the driveway, followed by some odd sounds, the smell of smoke and the blaring of their fire alarm.

The wife got to the staircase and was more than halfway down on their motorized chair lift when the power in the house went off, the criminal complaint said. She managed to make it to the bottom of the smoke-filled stairs and called up to her husband, who said he couldn't get down. She yelled up to him to call 911, but he didn't answer.

Responding police and firefighters found the woman outside the home. The house was engulfed by flames and smoke, preventing rescuers from going inside to rescue Drelick. He was later found dead in the second-floor bedroom. He was 81.

“I can’t stop thinking about that chairlift frozen in place by the fire in the middle of the stairs," Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub said in a Monday news release. “The defendant’s intentional fire caused the electrical short to the chairlift just after Mrs. Drelick used it to escape the fire and prevented Mr. Drelick from doing the same thing.

“I cannot imagine the terror that they both must have felt as they were separated by the fire. Now, forever.”

The Bensalem Township Fire Marshal's office later identified three spots inside the family room and one outside the home where it appeared the fire had been started, police said. They also found cans of Coors Light beer in two different spots near the home.

Drelick's wife said neither she nor her husband drank Coors Light.

A neighbor's security camera showed what appeared to be an SUV coming up the house's driveway shortly after 2 a.m. and leaving shortly before 3 a.m., police said.

As authorities responded to the blaze, the woman who escaped the fire called her daughter to alert her. The daughter then realized her roommate, Gillie, was not in their home near Scranton, police said.

The daughter called police to alert them that her roommate, her keys and her Buick Encore SUV were missing.

Later Sunday morning, an officer in Dunmore stopped Gillie in the Encore. Gillie told the officer that he had been drinking and was "drunk," according to the criminal complaint.

"A strong odor of gasoline was emanating from (Gillie), and a lighter was visible on the passenger seat," the criminal complaint said. Gillie also had the keys to the Drelicks' home in his pocket.

There was also an older-style rifle visible in the back seat of the car, police said. That same rifle matches the description of one that hung above the mantle in the family room of the Drelick home. "The rifle was positively identified as belonging to the Drelicks," Weintraub said.

Police looked at Gillie's criminal history and discovered a 2013 guilty plea to an arson charge.

Police didn't reveal why they believe Gillie targeted the Drelicks. Authorities said he had been in the home previously.

Gillie remained jailed after being denied bail at his early Monday morning arrangement, according to court records. It wasn't clear if he had an attorney who could comment on his behalf.

Contact Us