[cifnmedia] Tower Hill Illinois Arson

  • From: Sean & Kimberly Aaron <cifn@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: CIFN LIST <cifnmedia@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2004 09:23:19 -0800 (PST)

Updated: 03-15-2004 12:53:42 PM

Illinois Firefighters Arrested for Arson

Courtesy of Journal Gazette & Times-Courier

TOWER HILL -- Dave McDonald was quite surprised last week when he awoke to find 
his machine shed in flames. 

But he was even more shocked to learn that two former volunteer firefighters 
were among those arrested for setting his building on fire. 

"I just thought a fireman was supposed to protect you, rather than do harm," 
said McDonald, of rural Tower Hill. 

On Monday and Tuesday, a tip from Shelby County Crime Stoppers and information 
from the Tower Hill Fire Department led to the arrests of a Tower Hill 
firefighter, two ex-firefighters and a female accomplice, according to Shelby 
County State's Attorney Allan Lolie. 

The suspects, all in their early 20s, have been charged in connection with a 
year-long string of arson fires in and around the small village of Tower Hill. 
And experts said it's not "unheard of" for youthful firefighters to start 
blazes simply for the joy of extinguishing them. 

"They just want to play with fire, they want to go be firemen," said Ken Kuntz, 
a fire studies specialist with the U.S. Fire Administration in Emmitsburg, Md. 

While the exact number of the nation's firefighters-turned-arsonists is 
unclear, a USFA special report from January 2003 suggests a rash of "nuisance 
fires" in a particular fire district may point to firefighters lighting them 

According to Shelby County authorities, the Tower Hill arsons began Jan. 12, 
2003, with the destruction of a barn near the village. A house was damaged on 
Feb. 15, 2003, in rural Tower Hill, followed by a house fire July 30, 2003, 
within the village itself. 

McDonald's machine shed was destroyed on Feb. 28, the same day a blaze consumed 
a stack of hay bales in Herrick Township south of Tower Hill. 

After a tip from the Crime Stoppers, authorities met with Tower Hill Fire 
Department officials, said Lolie. 

Police on Monday arrested 20-year-old Kristopher D. Pope, a Tower Hill 
firefighter, as well as Travis H. Crouch, 20, and Chad L. Hopkins, 21, both 
former Tower Hill firefighters. Rachel J. Eller, 24, was taken into custody 

"I think it's very sad," said Lolie. "Since Sept. 11, we as a nation have come 
to respect our firefighters even more, and when people of that profession 
betray that trust ... it's really a sad day. 

"I think it's important to recognize the difficult job our volunteer and our 
full-time firefighters face, and this should not reflect negatively on those 
who do a good job day in and day out." 

Added Shelby County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Bill England, "The fire departments 
do their best to pick good candidates, but you can only check so far." 

The four arson suspects appeared at the Shelby County Courthouse Wednesday. 

Pope, of Tower Hill, was charged with three counts of arson relating to the 
2003 fires. His bail was set at $35,000, and he remains in custody. 

Tower Hill resident Crouch was charged with the July 2003 and February 2003 
fires, as well as the two blazes on Feb. 28. He posted 10 percent of his 
$50,000 bail and was released Wednesday. 

Hopkins, of Shelbyville, faces one count of arson from the January 2003 barn 
fire. His bail was $25,000, which was paid for his release Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, Ramsey resident Eller has been charged with the two Feb. 28 fires, 
and she remains in the Shelby County Detention Center with a bail of $50,000. 

Public Defender Robert Swiney was appointed to represent Hopkins and Eller 
while Pope and Crouch indicated they will hire their own attorneys. 

Lolie said the Shelby County Sheriff's Department and the Illinois State Fire 
Marshal's Office are continuing their investigation, and more arrests are 

England said he does not know the motives of the suspected arsonists, but 
speculated that they allegedly started those fires "just for the thrill of 
fighting a fire." 

That conclusion makes sense to fire protection experts. 

"It is not unheard of," said Alan Clark, executive director of the 
International Association of Arson Investigators and assistant vice president 
of special investigations for Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company in Grinnell, 

He said there appear to be more volunteer firefighters than paid firefighters 
who become fire starters, but likely because there are many more volunteers 
around the country. 

"It creates excitement, particularly in rural areas," he said. "It's 
unfortunate that it happens." 

Citing research from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, last year's USFA 
study claims "the number one motive was excitement, especially among young 
firefighters who were eager to put their training to practical use, and to be 
seen as heroes to fellow firefighters and the community they served." 

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Sean A. Aaron (CIFN*1)
Central Illinois Fire Network

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