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Teen pleads guilty to igniting devastating fire at Point Defiance’s pagoda

Post by Stacey Mulick / The News Tribune on Sep. 28, 2011 at 8:24 am |
September 28, 2011 11:29 am

A 16-year-old boy pleaded guilty this morning to setting fire to the historic pagoda in Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park earlier this year. The teen also pleaded guilty to a handful of other crimes.

The boy has been held in the Remann Hall juvenile detention center since his arrest in late April in connection with the fire. His sentencing was scheduled for Oct. 11.

Prosecutors had alleged the teen set fire to the pagoda late April 14 or early April 15. A Metro Parks employee spotted the flames about 4 a.m. on April 15.

They also accuse him of breaking into the building on a previous occasion and vandalizing the interior.

Flames heavily damaged the 97-year-old pagoda, the centerpiece of Point Defiance Park’s Japanese garden and the setting for many local weddings and other special events.

Investigators still were seeking a suspect when a Ruston police officer saw the teen riding a bicycle shortly after 1:15 a.m. April 20. The officer knew about the previous fires and stopped the teen, who wore pink gardening gloves and carried a backpack. He was breathing heavily and appeared nervous, court documents state.

The officer checked the backpack and found a one-gallon plastic can full of gasoline. He also found a box of wooden matches and a cellphone in the teen’s pockets.

Asked if he knew why he was stopped, the teen responded, “Yes, because of the fires,” according to the documents. He also told police he was going to the boathouse at the marina, charging documents state.

Investigators later found text messages on his phone implicating him in the pagoda fire, court records show.

The boy was found mentally competent to stand trial on the charges last month.

Information from The News Tribune archives included in this report.

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