Victim won't be charged for now in Camas fire

Prosecutor needs more time to review evidence

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

Updated: May 6, 2013, 6:36 PM

 

A 19-year-old man, injured and displaced April 30 by a fire at his parents’ Camas home, won’t be charged, for now, with felony reckless burning for allegedly starting the fire while trying to destroy his bank statements.

Brian Murray was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of first-degree reckless burning. Clark County Deputy Prosecutor Patrick Robinson said he filed paperwork today to exonerate Murray pending further review of evidence. That essentially means Murray’s legal future is in limbo until prosecutors decide whether charges are warranted.

“We felt we couldn’t review everything thoroughly enough by 2 p.m.,” Robinson said Monday. Prosecutors have 72 hours to charge someone with a crime after he or she is arrested. The deadline to charge Murray was 2 p.m. Monday. If prosecutors charge him later, they will summon him back to court, Robinson said.

The prosecutor said he received the Camas fire marshal’s report on the fire after business hours Friday. He reviewed it on Sunday but needs more time to discuss legal issues of the case with fellow prosecutors, “so we can make sure we make a sound and informed charging decision,” Robinson said.

He said he isn’t sure when a decision will be made. A decision could come this week or take longer.

In the meantime, Murray’s attorney has advised him to continue life as usual, said his mother, Patricia Jensen.

Murray, a recent Army recruit, plans to head off to basic training as soon as possible, she said. “He’s very relieved that at least he can go.”

Murray was scheduled to go to boot camp Monday but had to delay his departure after his arrest by Camas police. It’s unclear whether he’ll be scheduled to leave before or after the prosecuting attorney’s office makes a decision. Jensen said Murray is discussing his basic training departure date with his recruiter.

Murray’s family and friends were outraged by Murray’s arrest May 1. On Friday, about 20 of them held vigil at the fire site at 3627 N.W. Sierra Drive to show their opposition to his being charged in the incident, said Murray family friend Kelly Grall.

Murray, his parents, his sister and his friend all lived at the more than 4,000-square-foot house.

His parents said Murray was preparing to head off to boot camp by 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.

Jensen said the family had a paper shredder, but Murray may have opted to burn the bank records to keep them private from the rest of the family.

He found a clear area 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 kick boxing bag hanging from the deck, which also caught on fire.

“He never thought anything like that could happen,” Jensen said. “We never understood how flammable that (kick boxing bag) was. That became the torch from the fire to the deck.”

Murray’s father and sister escaped the house. No one else was at home.

Camas police spokesman Sgt. Scot Boyles has said Murray’s actions fit the crime of reckless burning, and he must be accountable.

About 25 firefighters from the Camas-Washougal and Vancouver fire departments and East County Fire & Rescue fought the flames, but the house was destroyed. Murray, who sustained second-degree burns, was the only person injured.

The fire caused about $500,000 in damage to the home, and damaged a neighbor’s siding and a window.

State law defines first-degree reckless burning as when a person “recklessly damages a building or other structure … by knowingly causing a fire.”


Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Courts; paris.achen@columbian.com.