“He admitted to accidentally burning himself after he intentionally set the fire,” said Franklin County Sheriff’s Det. Sgt. Jason Grellner, commander of the county’s Narcotics Enforcement Unit. “It quickly got out of hand. He spilled alcohol. He did deliberately light it and was burned on the leg trying to stomp it out.”
Fire gutted the 14x40-foot mobile home at Lot No. 6 of the Northview Mobile Home park on North Main.
Grellner and Jim Schuhmacher, the county prosecutor’s special investigator of fire scenes, were both called to the scene shortly after Gerald-Rosebud Beaufort-Leslie quickly extinguished the fire initially reported at 1:09 a.m. March 9. Owensville firemen were also called to the scene for manpower assistance. Neighbors reported seeing a man in his 20s fleeing the scene and running toward an apartment building north of the scene. He had suffered burns to his lower leg.
Initially, lawmen were seeking evidence of a possible methamphetamine lab explosion since the man said that is what happened when he arrived at the apartment a block north. He declined medical treatment at the scene, authorities would learn later.
A one point, investigators were also told by the man that there was another man and a woman who had also been burned in the fire. Both were “burned up top,” he told Grellner. “He’s being fairly cooperative,” said Grellner as a light rain began to fall around 3:25 a.m. “He’s highly intoxicated. “Allegedly two others left the scene with upper body burns.”
That would prompt investigators to have area hospitals called to check on potential burn victims. Investigators would later learn confirm through an interview with the man that there were no other burn victims.
With assistance from Gerald-Rosebud Fire Protection District volunteers, Grellner and Schuhmacher sifted through debris in the bedroom on the north side of the structure but found no evident of a meth cooking operation as the man had said. After a 3-hour investigation Saturday involving Gerald police and county investigators, lawmen announced at 4:30 a.m. that the man, who was not identified at the scene or in follow up interviews, was believed to have intentionally set the fire after an earlier argument with a female acquaintance at an apartment building nearby. Investigators said alcohol was involved and described the man as “highly intoxicated.”
He was described as the primary occupant of the residence he had purchased outright and did not have insurance on the structure. Schuhmacher said Tuesday their follow-up investigation revealed the man had obtained a loan from a private individual for $1,600 to buy the unit. The trailer is on a rented pad owned by Roger Grob.
“There was no narcotics nexus found at the scene,” said Grellner. “This was due to his mental status and intoxication. “He owned the trailer and was uninsured. There are no damages to anything but his own property. We don’t know of any felony crimes committed but we are checking if there are any possible misdemeanor charges.”
Schuhmacher determined the fire started on a blanket on the edge of the bed. The man later confirmed that was where he had spilled part of a bottle of whiskey. He was last seen at 12:38 a.m. leaving his acquaintance’s apartment and the fire was reported 31 minutes later. Steve Goodwin, a Gerald police officer, said the trailer was engulfed in flames when he first saw it from U.S. 50 minutes after the fire was reported.
“We thoroughly checked and saw no signs of methamphetamine lab or any other narcotics-related activity,” said Grellner.
Although investigators originally said it was an arson fire, Schuhmacher said Tuesday they were reassessing the case. “We’re still getting all the paperwork together,” he said. “There’s no (bank) mortgage on the home and there’s no insurance. We’re not sure if we have a victim yet.”
He said he had talked with the citizen who loaned the money for the trailer purchase. “There’s no paperwork drawn up,” said Schuhmacher. “He owes $1,600. He loaned him the money. The trailer is titled in the (occupant’s) name. We’re still trying to determine if it fits as a crime yet.”
He said investigators had a follow-up interview with the burned man after his release from jail on a 20-hour hold. “He said he did something stupid.”
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