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Man Sets Fire to House; Janesville (WI) Police Fire Pepperballs to Subdue Him

Janesville WI Fire Department

Frank Schultz

The Janesville Gazette, Wis.



A man set fire to his house Thursday afternoon on Janesville’s south side, leading to his arrest, police said.

Officers were dispatched to 3632 Birdsong Lane for a report of a disturbance at 2:08 p.m. Thursday and were told a man had armed himself with a knife, according to a police news release.

Arriving officers saw Joshua A. Kaster, 29, who lives at that address, breaking the windows and throwing household items, said Sgt. Benjamin Thompson.

Other occupants of the residence were out of the house before police arrived.

About 20 minutes after officers arrived, Kaster went into the backyard, which was surrounded by a privacy fence, and officers “verbally confronted” him, according to the release.

Kaster, who was holding a kitchen knife, said police would have to kill him, and he was going to set fire to the house, Thompson said.

Kaster went back inside, and smoke and flames were visible inside about five minutes later, according to the release.

As smoke and flames began filling the residence, Kaster returned to the backyard and held the knife to his own neck, ignoring officers’ shouted commands to drop the knife, Thompson said.

Kaster never threatened officers with the knife, Thompson said.

“The last thing we want to do is use deadly force on somebody that is threat to themselves. We were trying to prevent that by all means,” he said.

Thompson said a gun that fires a nonlethal, 40 mm foam projectile might have been a good option to incapacitate Kaster, but he was out of range. Tasers also could not reach him.

The gate to the backyard was locked, but an officer was able to fire a pepperball launcher several times at Kaster, according to the release.

Pepperballs are about the size of a marble and break upon impact, expelling the same irritant used in pepper spray, Thompson said.

The pepperballs hit only the garage and the ground behind Kaster, and they didn’t affect him, Thompson said.

Officers by that time had pulled enough of the fence apart to enter the backyard, and as they confronted Kaster, he dropped the knife and lay on the ground as commanded, and officers handcuffed him with no further trouble, Thompson said.

Firefighters on scene were then able to fight the fire. Flames had reached the house’s exterior, where the roof meets the walls, Thompson said.

Damage to the house and contents was estimated at $75,000, said fire Capt. Thomas Brunner.

Brunner said one firefighter suffered an injury that didn’t require hospital care.

Kaster was arrested on preliminary charges of disorderly conduct, false imprisonment, criminal damage to property, recklessly endangering safety and battery, all as acts of domestic violence, along with arson and driving a motor vehicle without owner consent.

Kaster had been drinking much of the day, Thompson said.

Before officers arrived, Kaster attacked the mother of his child, who was visiting the house, and his father, who lived with Kaster, Thompson said.

The father called police, which further agitated Kaster, who picked up the knife and began threatening himself and throwing things, Thompson said.

At one point, Kaster tried to leave with his father’s vehicle but had trouble operating it, Thompson said.


©2020 The Janesville Gazette (Janesville, Wis.)

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