Student charged with arson
Officials say Wilson resident started dryer fire
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 20:10
Just a week after an alleged arson in Wilson Hall’s basement, one can find no trace of damage nor any smell of smoke remaining in the room.
Matthew Fox, an 18-year-old resident of Wilson Hall, was arrested and charged with arson in the fifth degree, felony criminal mischief in the fourth degree and reckless endangerment in the second degree following a dryer fire in the basement laundry room.
Assistant Chief of University Police Jerry Lottie said University Police officers and the Plattsburgh Fire Department responded to a fire alarm at 3:30 a.m., Sept. 28, in Wilson Hall.
Lottie said the building was in full alarm and had been evacuated.
He said smoke detectors, not only in the basement, but also on the first floor, had been activated because of a fire in a dryer in the laundry room.
Lottie said the fire was extinguished, and the dryer was investigated. Officers found the fire did not occur because of mechanical failures but, allegedly, had been intentionally set.
Associate Director of Health and Safety Cathleen Eldridge said the situation was handled well by the parties involved.
“This is the best example of why we do what we do (fire drills),” Eldridge said.
Eldridge also said, though she had been away when it occurred, she was happy that the incident had minimal impact on the building and Wilson’s residents. No injuries occurred.
Second floor Resident Assistant Charles Sanchez said he felt the residence hall staff handled the fire pretty well.
Sanchez said he had been sleeping when he suddenly saw a flash. It was the fire alarm.
“It’s got to be a dream,” he said.
He said he thought it was another person burning food in the kitchen. However, after seeing multiple fire trucks arrive at the scene, he realized it was not burnt popcorn.
When the police and firefighters brought out a burnt dryer, Sanchez said he realized what was going on.
“There’s a dryer on fire,” he said. “This is serious.”
Wilson Residence Hall Director Janis Noble said students knew exactly what to do and gave University Police and the fire department all the space they needed to work.
“It all went smoothly,” Noble said. “Well, as smoothly as possible in a situation like this.
After about 20 minutes, University Police allowed the Wilson residents into Moffitt Hall to escape the cold, Sanchez said.
After reviewing the security camera footage and determining there was an alleged arson involved, the dryer was replaced.
Lottie said Fox was arrested and brought to the Clinton County Correctional Facility in lieu of $2,500 bail or $5,000 bond.
Fox was released by court order Sept. 29.
Dean of Students Steve Matthews said Fox is no longer a student at the college.
Although he was unable to give specifics on this case, Matthews shared what could happen in cases like this.
He said, first of all, if a student receives criminal charges, the school is unable to do anything until the criminal case is concluded, unless the president sees the student as a potential threat to himself/herself or others, in which case the student can be expelled on the spot until the conclusion of the court case.
“If a student intentionally sets a fire in the residence hall,” Matthews said, “they will be expelled.”
Fox’s case is still open, however.
Cardinal Points tried to contact Fox. However, Plattsburgh City Court could not release contact information for Fox or his lawyer due to Fox’s status as a youthful offender, which means — according to New York state law — that if a person is under 19 and has had no previous criminal charges, his/her case can be sealed to the public, making it so he/she cannot be contacted.
Sanchez, who was Fox’s resident assistant, said he frequently interacted with Fox, and would not have guessed that he would do this.
“I had nothing but positive interactions with him,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez said that, though fire drills can be a “pain,” if an actual fire occurs — as in this case — students can be prepared.
“It’s well worth it (to practice),” he said.