A 17-year-old Vancouver boy pleaded guilty Thursday to setting the fire that destroyed Crestline Elementary School in February 2013.
Dylan Mork appeared with his parents in Clark County Juvenile Court to plead guilty to second-degree arson, a felony. He will be sentenced July 7.
Mork has been cooperating with prosecutors and police since the beginning of the investigation into the fire on Feb. 3, 2013. However, investigators didn’t announce that the fire was human-caused, or that they had a suspect, until April.
The overall cost of the fire is projected to reach $22 million by September, when a replacement school opens, according to officials with Evergreen Public Schools. Attorneys said Thursday they’ll recommend Mork be ordered to pay $2 million restitution. The first $10,000 will be paid to the Evergreen Public Schools to cover its insurance deductible; the rest will be owed to the insurance company.
Deputy Prosecutor Dan Gasperino said that in addition to restitution, he’ll recommend Mork spend 30 days in custody at the Clark County Juvenile Justice Center and perform 150 hours of community service.
Defense attorney Jack Green said he’ll argue Mork, who has been living with his parents, should only spend 10 days in custody. Green agrees with the recommendation of 150 hours of community service, which is the maximum.
“We’re happy that we’re one step closer to resolving this matter, not only for Dylan and his family but for the community,” Green said after the hearing.
In pleading guilty to second-degree arson, Mork admitted he “knowingly and maliciously” set a fire. None of the investigators believed Mork meant for the fire to spread to Crestline, Green said.
According to a probable cause affidavit filed in court, Mork set fire to a coat that had been left on a bench next to the school. He thought the fire was out when he left the school grounds, but the bench burned and the fire spread to the school. Another teenager was present, but Mork told investigators that he alone set the fire, and no charges were filed against his friend.
Lab tests confirmed the ignition of the coat caught the bench on fire, which then spread to the building, according to the affidavit.
The three-alarm early-morning fire destroyed the school at 13003 S.E. Seventh St., and displaced 500 students and 50 staff for the rest of 2012-13 school year and all of the recently ended school year.
An official with Canfield, the third-party administrator for the district’s schools insurance association, has said that the association may sue Mork’s parents for damages. Phil Riche, Canfield’s vice president, has said the association’s attorneys likely would wait to take any civil action until the criminal case is resolved.
Mork was a junior at Mountain View High School at the time of his arrest, and a first-year student in the restaurant management program at the Clark County Skills Center. He never attended Crestline Elementary. He was 15 at the time of the fire, and has no criminal history.
After the fire, students and staff were divided by grade level and sent to five elementary schools for the remaining four months of the 2012-13 school year. For the 2013-14 school year, students and staff were housed at temporary quarters on the former Hewlett-Packard campus on Southeast 34th Street that is now owned by SEH America.
The new Crestline school is set to be completed Aug. 1 to give teachers time to move in and set up their classrooms. The school will have upgraded technology, security and, notably, fire-suppression systems. Those weren’t required at the time the original Crestline was constructed in the early 1970s. The new school is being built based on an updated plan and will resemble Endeavour Elementary.