Polk teens charged with murder in fatal house fire

- The Polk County Sheriff's Office has charged two teenagers with first-degree murder in connection with a fatal house fire.

The fire happened on January 11 at 67-year-old Donald Merkley's home on Timberline Road in Winter Haven.

Detectives initially believed the fire was caused by a small electric heater, but the fire soon turned into a homicide investigation.

According to the Sheriff's Office, 18-year-old Jerry Johnsey and 16-year-old Byron Lasiak intended to rob the victim. Deputies said the suspects choked and hit Merkley with a baseball bat. The teens then set the house on fire in an attempt to cover up the homicide.

The suspects have both been charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery and robbery with a weapon. Johnsey also faces an arson charge.

Up Next:


Up Next

  • Polk teens charged with murder in fatal house fire
  • F-35 fighter parts manufacturer celebrates 20 years in Pinellas
  • Water Street project plan visuals released
  • Girl dies after being hit by truck in Riverview neighborhood
  • Lakeland K9 unit members disciplined for speeding
  • Ybor City security guard skips court, prompting new warrant
  • Gibsonton man allegedly tweeted child porn to local TV anchor
  • Tampa police unveil pink patrol cars for breast cancer awareness
  • Alcohol now allowed on St. Pete Beach, with limits
  • Two members of Hillsborough Diversity Council resign