Teen charged with arson in Franklin St. fire

Published 6:11 pm Saturday, June 27, 2009

A 15-year-old Suffolk boy is being held at Tidewater Detention Home in Chesapeake on arson charges related to a fire on Wednesday that destroyed three houses and a garage on Franklin Street.

The boy, whom police would not identify because of his age, is charged with two counts of arson of an occupied dwelling and one count of arson of an unoccupied dwelling, according to Suffolk spokesperson Debbie George.

The incident remains under investigation, George said, declining to release details about how the fire may have started or the likelihood of other arrests.

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Members of the fire department’s Fire Marshal’s office arrested the teen on Saturday morning, she said. He is expected to be arraigned in a Suffolk court early in the week, she said.

The fire, which destroyed an occupied house, a duplex and an unoccupied home, along with a two-story garage, started in the vacant house and quickly spread to the buildings on either side.

A total of 11 people were displaced from their homes by the blaze. Two vehicles also were destroyed, and four firefighters were taken to the hospital with minor injuries sustained while fighting the fire.

Fire Chief Mark Outlaw was pleased with the arrest, according to George.

“Members of the Fire Marshal’s office have worked diligently on this case, since shortly after the fire was reported Wednesday,” Outlaw said. “While this arrest doesn’t lessen the loss experienced by these families, once the investigation is completed, it may allow for some answers that they might have otherwise not received.”

The vacant house, located at 120 Franklin St., had been the subject of neighbors’ complaints for some time, and it had come to the attention of Suffolk’s codes enforcement office 14 months ago, when the city first issued citations for code violations to its owner, Thomas W. Dana III.

Dana has been cited for violations on properties he owns at least three times, including at least two times for the house that was lost in the fire.

According to General District Court records, he had failed to scrape and paint the house; secure it against unlawful entry; and repair the front porch, broken windows, exterior walls, interior walls, an overhang extension, trim and other aspects of the structure.

A judgment was entered against him in November, and he was fined. As of Thursday afternoon, he had yet to pay $2,250 in fines related to the code violations.

Melvin Johnson, who rented an apartment in the duplex next to the vacant house, said on Wednesday that a neighbor reported seeing somebody behind the vacant house just before the fire started.

Units from Suffolk, Driver, Chuckatuck and Holland responded to the fire, and units from neighboring communities were brought in to man the stations in case additional calls came in, George said. Firefighters worked into the early morning hours Thursday putting out the blaze, and some remains still were smoldering on Thursday afternoon.

— Staff Writer Tracy Agnew contributed to this story.