2 Butler County arson cases highlight laws in prosecuting fires

Two suspects are charged with allegedly setting fires the destroyed vacant warehouses in Hamilton and Middletown, and prosecutors say the key difference in charges in such cases is knowledge of starting a fire.

Logan Henry, 18, is charged with 13 felony counts including aggravated arson, arson, and breaking and entering for allegedly starting a fire that caused a massive blaze at a block-long Hamilton warehouse on Laurel Avenue in July.

Joshua Lamb, 35, is charged with arson, a fourth-degree felony, for allegedly starting the fire early on Jan. 1 at the former Middletown Paperboard facility on Verity Parkway.

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Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said in these cases there does not have to be a purpose or motivation to burn down building to be charged with arson. The key is knowledge.

“That knowledge is the knowledge of starting the fire,” Gmoser said. “So if you start a fire to keep warm and it happens to burn down a building, that is not an accident. That is knowingly being responsible for the consequences for an act which you have knowledge of the potential consequences.

“Because fire is hot and it can burn. When you light it and you know you are lighting it you have to be knowledgeable, therefore, of the consequences.”

Gmoser said there are some circumstances where starting a fire may be defensible as an accident.

“If you go into a warehouse and you trip over a wire that sparks against a machine which is made of metal and then sparks a fire on some fluff that is there and burns down the place, accident might be a defense because you had no knowledge that accidentally bumping a wire …. would cause a spark that caused a fire,” he said.

He said if that were the case, the person may be charged with breaking and entering, but he would not go forward with the arson charge.

“But if you go in to keep warm and you ignite a pile of fluff and it gets away from you, that might be what the street public considers an accident, but it doesn’t count as far as the criminal charge is concerned,” Gmoser said. “That’s the way the law reads.”

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Henry, of the 500 block of Valley View in Hamilton, was in Butler County Common Pleas Judge Keith Spaeth’s courtroom on Thursday for a pre-trial hearing. He is free on $115,000 bond.

Speath warned the teen in November to follow house rules while on bond and asked Thursday if Henry “was staying home at night.”

“He’s doing great,” his mother said.

He is scheduled to be back in court Jan. 30.

Security videos from neighboring businesses showed four males who looked to be juveniles enter the warehouse during the early-morning hours of July 25, according to police. Minutes later, they ran out, and flames were soon visible. Henry is the teen police say set the fire.

Hamilton Detective Robert Horton testified during a probable cause hearing that investigators were able to identify the four males seen on the video and question three of them.

MORE: Hamilton teen pleads not guilty in first adult court appearance for warehouse fire

The teens said they were hanging out and entered the west side of the warehouse through a door. They were climbing on a bin of plastic when Henry put a lighter to the plastic, Horton said during testimony.

“He (Henry) took a lighter, lit the plastic while they were on top of it, they jumped down and ran out,” Horton said.

He testified Henry said they all attempted to put out the fire before leaving the building. Cleanup will cost an estimated $100,000, according to police. Neighboring houses were damaged buy the heat of the blaze.

On Wednesday, Lamb’s case was sent to a Butler County grand jury for considerations. He remains incarcerated in lieu of a $20,000 bond.

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Middletown Detective Steve Winters testified at Wednesday’s hearing that Lamb, 35, who is homeless, started the fire to keep warm, and when he walked away to get more wood, his bedding caught fire.

Winters said he found Lamb in an alley on Broad Street, and during an interview at 5 p.m. Jan. 1 at the police station, he told police four other homeless people lived at the facility on Verity Parkway.

In the week since the fire, Middletown firefighters returned numerous times because of hotspots, and Vickers Demolition has knocked down two smokestacks. Lamb told police he entered the building through a garage door.

Cost to the city is $130,000 in demolition costs and firefighter overtime. The city does not own the building or property that was forfeited to the state of Ohio on Dec. 19 in a tax foreclosure suit.

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