02/26/09 — Southern Wayne High School student sets fire

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Southern Wayne High School student sets fire

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on February 26, 2009 1:46 PM

DUDLEY -- A 15-year-old told arson investigators he set a stack of toilet paper on fire in a bathroom at Southern Wayne High School, then returned to class, leaving the fire to burn without telling anyone, authorities say.

Deputy Russell Rice, the school resource officer, and other school personnel are credited with quick action using fire extinguishers, minimizing damages, authorities said.

Hallways were filled with smoke during the Tuesday fire around 9 a.m., witnesses said, and the school resource officer was injured while trying to fight the fire.

Rice was taken to Wayne Memorial Hospital following the incident, where he was treated and released for smoke inhalation.

The boy reportedly told arson investigators he set the fire because he was "bored."

The student suffered minor burns to his hand as he tried to put it out, before leaving and returning to a classroom, Sheriff's Office Capt. Tom Effler said.

State law prevents the disclosure of the names of minors who have been charged with a crime.

Arson investigators say students are lucky Southern Wayne is built of brick and that the school resource officer and others quickly worked to extinguish it with fire extinguishers.

"It wasn't until smoke was seen that they (the school resource officer and school personnel) responded to it," Effler said. "He (the 15-year-old) said he tried to put it out, but couldn't, and left and didn't tell anybody about it."

The Sheriff's Office captain said the situation could have been dire had the walls been made of wood, or if the fire reached the ceiling.

"If it had been a wooden wall, or something more flammable, or if it got up into the ceiling of the school, it would have been bad," Effler said. "I don't know exactly what's in the ceiling, but much of the time, the ceiling area burns more than anything else does."

As 1,100 students and staff at Southern Wayne were evacuated, firefighters from three separate departments responded to the call.

They learned the fire had been in a boys' bathroom, and Sheriff's Office arson investigators including Keith Hartzog, Detective Mike Kabler and Wayne County Fire Marshal Bryan Taylor were called in, authorities said.

They used the school's video cameras to identify a student who was in the area just before the fire had reportedly started, Effler said.

The detectives and the fire marshal said their investigation revealed toilet paper had been stacked up on a handicapped rail in a restroom stall, then set ablaze.

The student faces a serious charge, burning of a school building, which is a Class F felony.

Damages to the building might add up to as much as $100,000, the captain said.

The 15-year-old is in secure custody at Greenville Juvenile Detention Center, Effler said.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said the use of school cameras should be credited for a quick end to the arson investigation.

"Video security systems are rapidly gaining popularity in our county," Winders said in a release. "Several detectives have been trained in the use of video as an investigative tool, as well as how to secure and maintain the video for court."

Wayne County Schools spokesman Ken Derksen said the student also would face school disciplinary action "according to board policy."

"The safety of our students is our top priority. Incidents of this type will not be tolerated," he said.