Local man gets 30 days for setting fire
A River Falls man was sentenced Tuesday to 30 days jail for misdemeanor criminal damage to property in Pierce County Circuit Court as part of a plea agreement.
Mark A. Nicholson, 33, was originally charged with arson, a Class C felony. He was also placed on one year probation and ordered to follow through with treatment.
The charge stems from a June 4 incident in which the Pierce County Sheriff's Department was notified of a house fire at W7250 870th Ave. in the Town of Martell. A press release stated Nicholson, the homeowner, was uninjured and was able to notify 911 dispatchers for help.
According to the criminal complaint, later that day, sheriff's investigators began interviewing Nicholson and what he told them didn't match the evidence.
Nicholson told them he went through the front door and he walked upstairs to see what was going on. Ellsworth firefighters told investigators that, when they opened the front door, the smoke was almost down to the floor so one couldn't even see in the residence.
Three days later, sheriff's investigators, along with members from the Division of Criminal Investigation, went to Nicholson's parents' house in Ellsworth, where he wanted to apologize for lying.
He first stated he owes a mortgage on the house "and that money is tight right now."
He continued that, about 9:45 the night before the fire, he said he was home, downstairs, putting clothes in the dryer. He changed clothes, grabbed a gas can, poured it around the house and worked his way upstairs. When asked how many places he started the fire, he responded he lit it in several different spots. He left the house, going out a patio door after lighting it in the basement.
Nicholson added he figured he expected to get a call saying his house was on fire, but when he didn't, he was "curious" about what was going on at the house, which is why he returned. When he saw the house wasn't on the ground, he said he "kind of lost it."
"How am I going to get this going?" Nicholson told his interviewers, who added that he was concerned about was burning the house down.
He said the reason for starting the fire was he wanted to start fresh and he didn't want any bills. He also indicated he is alcohol and cocaine dependent, and is suicidal. He did state he wasn't on alcohol or drugs when he set the house on fire.
The plea agreement came from multiple factors, said District Attorney John O' Boyle. Nicholson had no prior criminal record; the arson was at his place of residence, which is unlike a typical arson case; and he was forthcoming with investigators in the second interview.
The only dispute left from the plea hearing was jail time. O'Boyle argued jail time was needed due to the seriousness of the offense and the fact emergency personnel were put at risk. Nicholson's attorney, Barry Lundeen, argued otherwise, saying this was "not done for financial gain; this was done for attention," and Nicholson's condition has significantly improved since the incident.
In the end, Pierce County Circuit Court Judge Robert Wing accepted the agreement, but agreed with O'Boyle in terms of jail, calling arson "a great threat to human life" and firefighters have a "dangerous profession."