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Student charged with arson after dorm fire

November 8, 2012

By CARL SMITH
news@starkvilledailynews.com

Officials confirm a Mississippi State University student was arrested Wednesday and charged with arson after allegedly starting a small fire in a Cresswell Hall elevator.

MSU officials would not release the student’s name due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, but Oktibbeha County Jail records show Bryson Bonham, 18, of 119 Chadwick Place, Madison, was processed at the facility Wednesday after he was charged with arson. That entry was the only arson charge jailers processed Wednesday. Jailers also said the processing report was difficult to clearly read and had trouble making out the suspect’s last name. He was released that same day on a $10,000 bond.

Calls to MSUPD and Thomas Bourgeois, MSU dean of students, went unreturned as of press time.

“An arrest has been made, but the university will not release a name because the investigation is still ongoing,” University Relations Director Sid Salter said.

Starkville Fire Marshal Mark McCurdy said Ladder No. 1 and Engine No. 4 were both dispatched to the residence hall at approximately 8:06 a.m. yesterday after the building’s fire alarm system was activated. SFD arrived at the scene within three minutes of the emergency call.

Upon arrival, firefighters discovered a small fire in the elevator system which produced a heavy amount of smoke, McCurdy said. Due to quick response, SFD was able to extinguish the fire before it spread any further in the elevator shaft and the building.

McCurdy said it appeared the fire was ignited by a cigarette lighter’s flame making contact with the elevator’s ceiling.

“The suspect apparently didn’t try to stop the fire, didn’t pull an alarm and didn’t try to report it,” McCurdy said.

Once the fire was extinguished, a joint investigation was launched by MSUPD and SFD. McCurdy said officials were able to identify the suspect, which he believes lived in the dorm, through surveillance footage. An arrest was made approximately two hours after the fire started, he said.
Although the fire itself was relatively small and caused little damage, McCurdy says SFD takes arson seriously because of the potential damage any fire can cause in an occupied building.

“Even though nobody was hurt in this particular building, the potential exist for people getting hurt or killed. When a fire is deliberately started in an occupied dwelling, the severity of the situation is much worse than any other fire,” he said.

Located on the southern portion of campus, Cresswell Hall’s capacity is 300 co-ed students, MSU Housing and Residence Life Director Ann Bailey said. Repairs to the structure, she said, began after MSUPD’s on-scene investigation concluded.

Wednesday’s fire yielded the second arson arrest by area officials in the past two weeks. Last month, Starkville Police Department authorities arrested and charged Christopher Lee Steed, 35, of 40051 Valley Chapel Road, Hamilton, with arson after he allegedly set fire to a mobile home he owned in the Pines Manufactured Home Community. According to a release, Steed allegedly lit a roll of toilet paper with a match, dropped it in a bedroom recliner and fled the fire. The structure, which Steed was renting to another individual, was unoccupied at the time of the incident.

Steed confessed to the act during a joint investigation conducted by SPD and SFD.

SFD Fire Chief Rodger Mann said his department enjoys a strong working relationship with all Oktibbeha County law enforcement agencies.
“Everyone’s working for the same goal,” he said. “No matter the size of the fire, once a person starts one on purpose, we’re going to go after them.”

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