A 19-year-old man, injured and displaced Monday by a fire at his parents’ Camas home, may be charged with felony reckless burning for allegedly starting the fire while trying to destroy his bank statements.
Brian C. Murray appeared Thursday in Clark County Superior Court in a jail uniform, handcuffs and shackles, as his distressed parents and four friends sat in the public gallery to support him.
“Don’t they understand (charging my son) is destroying our family?” said Alan Murray, his father. “We already had the traumatic experience (of a fire). Now, they’re talking about charging him, somebody about to go into the military trying to better himself.”
Judge David Gregerson ordered that he be released Thursday on conditions, including reporting regularly to the Pre-Trial Release Program.
He is scheduled to be arraigned May 16 on a charge of first-degree reckless burning.
Murray, his parents, his sister and his friend all lived at the more than 4,000-square-foot house at 3627 N.W. Sierra Drive.
His parents said Murray, a recent Army recruit, was preparing to head to boot camp on Monday and was disposing of many of his personal effects. As part of that process, he said he wanted to burn some bank statements and looked for a dirt patch away from foliage that might ignite, according to a probable cause affidavit.
He found one under the house’s deck, which is about 12 feet off the ground. The affidavit says he placed about 15 to 20 envelopes stuffed with bank documents under a rock so the papers wouldn’t blow away, fetched a can of gasoline from the family’s shed and placed the can about four to six feet behind him. He then poured about a cup of gasoline onto the papers and set the papers on fire with a lighter, according to court documents. As the papers burned, he noticed warmth behind him, turned around and saw the gas can on fire. Flames were reaching down the can’s nozzle.
He tried to move the gas away from the house, but as he did, gas spilled on his right leg and ankle, causing him to drop the can, the affidavit says. The can landed near a punching bag hanging from the deck, which also caught on fire. Murray’s father and sister, Katherine, were able to escape the house. No one else was at home at the time.
“It’s pretty clear it’s an accident,” said Jack Green, Murray’s attorney. “His parents, his best friend (all victims of the fire) are on his side.”
Murray’s mother, Patricia Jensen, said her son feels terrible about the accident. She was in tears as she spoke.
“It was his home, too,” she said. “He loved his Xbox (video game console.) It’s not something he would do on purpose.”
About 25 firefighters from the Camas-Washougal and Vancouver fire departments and East County Fire & Rescue fought the flames, but the house was destroyed. Brian Murray, who sustained second-degree burns, was the only person injured.
Camas police investigated and arrested Murray Wednesday.
‘He’s a good guy’
Murray’s friends present at Thursday’s hearing said they were outraged by his arrest.
“He decided to take care of some bank receipts to make sure they were destroyed,” said Bob Shriver, a Murray family friend. “Shredding would have been a better choice, but you know, we (don’t) all walk on water.”
“He’s a good guy,” said Alyssa Shriver, Murray’s friend. “Justice isn’t being served.”
Camas police spokesman Sgt. Scot Boyles said the department sympathizes with the family.
“We understand they’re going through traumatic circumstances, but that doesn’t excuse the behavior,” Boyles said.
Boyles said first-degree reckless burning, a felony, was the only crime that fit the alleged deed. He said crimes which include the word “reckless” usually are unintentional. But someone else could have been injured or killed, and there was some damage to neighboring houses, he said.
The amount of damage to neighboring houses was not available Thursday from Camas-Washougal Fire Department. The damage at the Murray house is estimated at about $500,000, said Fire Chief Nick Swinhart.
State law says first-degree reckless burning is when a person “recklessly damages a building or other structure … by knowingly causing a fire … .”
“We as a police department have no control over where the state sets the level of a crime: felony, gross misdemeanor or misdemeanor,” Boyles said. “We just have to pick the crime that fits.”
Deputy Prosecutor Patrick Robinson said he has 72 hours after Murray’s first appearance, which was at 9 a.m. Thursday, to decide whether to file charges but expects to reach a decision today. He said as part of his decision, he’ll be trying to determine whether Murray “disregarded a substantial risk” and if his behavior was a “gross deviation” from what a regular person would do.
Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts; http://facebook.com/ColTrends; firstname.lastname@example.org.