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Teen charged with arson in blaze that destroyed $30G classroom

Staff Report -   Feb 01, 2007

"We never ran into a dead end - the case just took a long time."

That's how Marc Reech, chief of the arson division in the Louisiana Fire Marshal's Office, described a 14-month investigation that ended with a teenager being booked on a charge of "simple arson" in connection with a fire that destroyed a $30,000 portable classroom at New Sarpy Elementary School in 2005.

The teen's name was not released because he was a juvenile when the fire was set. Because the building was self insured by the St. Charles Parish School Board, it was replaced with school money.

Investigators with the Fire Marshal's Office and the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office pursued leads that trickled in over 14 months before they zeroed in on the suspect in Reserve, in St. John the Baptist Parish.

The teenager was taken to St. Charles Parish, where he was booked and released to his parents' custody, Reech said.

The weekend fire destroyed a building at the rear of the campus. The building was self-insured by the St. Charles Parish School Board and cost $30,000 to replace, school system spokeswoman Rochelle Cancienne said.

School officials have since installed a security camera to help monitor suspicious activity and prevent arson, vandalism or break-ins in the future.

Reech credited Sgt. Roanne Sampson of the St. Charles Sheriff's Office with keeping the investigation on track.

She was instrumental in helping to locate witnesses, some of whom had left the area.

The alleged arsonist reportedly left a party near New Sarpy Elementary about 10 p.m. and walked through the schoolyard. Deputies found a door to the building open, Reech said.

The fire was set inside a classroom with "an open-flame device," a term fire experts often use in official reports when talking about a "cigarette lighter."

No accelerants such as kerosene or gasoline were used, he said.

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