In an apparent murder-suicide, a Hepburn Township man and his former girlfriend perished late Thursday night in a burning SUV that the man allegedly set ablaze outside his parents' home along Route 973, according to investigators.
Using an accelerant, Seth A. Snyder, 42, set fire to Cherilyn R. Kephart's Toyota while she and Snyder were in the vehicle about 11:30 p.m., Old Lycoming Township Police Chief William Solomon said.
The fire occurred at 2405 Route 973 East, a farm and home owned by Snyder's parents, where Snyder had been staying since his release from the Lycoming County Prison in early December.
Snyder had been incarcerated since Oct. 20, following his arrest on charges of allegedly striking Kephart, 38, "several times in the back and neck" with the butt of a rifle earlier that day, according to court records.
During the domestic disturbance, which occurred at the couple's home at 1808 Rose Valley Road, also in Hepburn Township, Snyder allegedly told Kephart "I'm going to blow your brains out" as he repeatedly struck her with the rifle, Old Lycoming Township Patrolman Kenneth Brown wrote in an affidavit.
The couple had two children, a 2-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter, and Kephart was holding one of them when Snyder allegedly struck her, Brown said.
After Snyder's arrest, Kephart filed for a protection from abuse order against him, Solomon said. The two were not to have any contact with one another except when exchanging custody of their children, which they shared, he added.
Shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday, Kephart left her place of employment, Cowden's Family Market on Lycoming Creek Road, and stopped at the Route 973 property to pick up her children from Snyder, Solomon said.
The final minutes of Snyder's and Kephart's lives remain a mystery at this point, Solomon admitted.
Snyder's parents, along with his two children were inside the house at the time of the fire, which was ignited soon after Kephart arrived, investigators said.
Police do not know if Snyder did something to Kephart that prevented her from trying to escape the fire.
"Both bodies were found in the passenger section of the SUV," Lycoming County Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr. said. Investigators would not say who was in the driver's seat.
The fire was first discovered by Snyder's brother, Scott, who lives across from his parents' farm, Solomon said.
"He heard a bang, something that sounded like the closing of a door. He then saw flames behind his parents' barn and called them," Solomon said. One of the parents called 911.
"The first arriving police officer found the SUV engulfed in flames. Hepburn Township firefighters extinguished the fire. It was then that two deceased persons were discovered inside the vehicle," Solomon said.
Kiessling said Snyder and Kephart both suffered massive burns.
Snyder, a truck loader for UPS, was still wearing the ankle bracelet that was issued him in early December when he was released under the county prison's intense supervision program, Solomon said.
Cpl. Nicholas A. Loffredo, a state police fire marshal, responded to the scene and assisted with the investigation.
Kiessling said no decision has yet been made on whether autopsies will be done on the bodies.
Solomon said there had been no reports to police of any trouble between Snyder and Kephart since Snyder's release from jail.
Solomon called the deaths "a real tragedy."
"The entire family has been victimized by this. We are now faced with children without parents. No words can describe how horrific that is," he said.