Othello man admits torching haystacks

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldDecember 23, 2013 

An Othello man admitted Monday that he "caused extensive damage" when he torched several large haystacks on Halloween night in north Franklin County.

Burt Ray Johnson, 25, told a detective the day after the fires that he believed he started them but couldn't remember because he'd blacked out from excessive drinking.

He reportedly used flammable liquids to light the fires.

Johnson pleaded guilty in Franklin County Superior Court to one count of second-degree arson.

Johnson's sentencing is scheduled Jan. 7. He faces three to nine months in county jail.

Prosecutors said they will recommend a three-month term, to be followed by 12 months on community supervision.

Johnson also must have a mental health evaluation and successfully complete any recommended treatment, prosecutors said in court documents.

As part of the plea agreement, Johnson agreed to pay restitution for all of the fire damage mentioned in police reports, documents said.

According to authorities, at least three haystacks within a short distance of each other near Sagehill and Wahluke roads were burned to the ground. Another haystack, on Green Acres Road, and an open field near Sagehill Road also were set on fire.

The suspect parked a vehicle near the haystacks and walked to them to light the fires.

Johnson's Albany Road home could be seen from one of the crime scenes.

His father told investigators that he suspected his son started the fires, court documents said.

The father said he found matches inside the truck Johnson was driving the night of the fires, when it wasn't common for Johnson to carry matches, and that his son had been intoxicated and was acting very suspicious, documents said.

Investigators found tire tracks and footprints near the charred haystacks. The tracks were the same at each scene and matched the truck Johnson was driving late Oct. 31, court documents said.

Shoes in Johnson's bedroom reportedly matched the footprints found leading to one haystack.

When Franklin County sheriff's Detective Jason Nunez went to the home, Johnson told him he was hung over from the night before and showed him the clothes he was wearing.

His jeans, shirt and shoes were wet, and Johnson reportedly claimed the shirt got burn marks on it from helping Franklin Fire District 4 crews put out the fires. The shoes also were muddy.

On the drive to the sheriff's office to be interviewed, Johnson told Nunez that he had two memories from the night that made him believe he was responsible, court documents said.

Johnson remembered possibly getting flammable liquids from a shed at his house and lighting a stack of one-ton hay bales with either a match or flint.

He may have used gasoline, paint thinner, mineral spirits and other chemicals to start the fire, documents said.

He told Nunez he lit a haystack and there was a big flash, and he must have used flammable chemicals because the fire spread so quickly.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service