Three charged in connection with fires

By Abby Morris
Star Staff

   Three juveniles have been charged in connection with two fires that destroyed a playground on the property of the Elizabethton Housing and Development Agency Tuesday night.
   According to Elizabethton Police Department Ptl. Jesus Pena, a 13-year-old male was arrested and charged with arson, which is a Class C felony, and two female juveniles, aged 12 and 13, were issued criminal summons charging them with setting fire to personal property, which is a Class E felony. All three of the juveniles reside at the Rolling Hills Estates property of the EHDA, according to police reports.
   Pena stated that the female juveniles were charged in connection with the first fire at the playground, which did no damage to the property, while the juvenile male was charged in connection with the second fire, which eventually destroyed the playground.
   According to reports, the first fire occurred around 7:30 p.m. at a playground located behind the apartment building at 931 Pine Ridge Circle. "A small amount of the rubber (mulch) material in the play area was on fire," states Elizabethton Police Department Ptl. Jason Shaw in his report.
   Shaw used a portable fire extinguisher to put out the fire, and the Elizabethton Fire Department responded to the scene and wet down the rubber mulch material on the playground.
   Later that night, around 11 p.m., Shaw was dispatched to the playground, again behind the apartment building, on the report of a fire. "(I) found that this time the fire involved the playground equipment. The fire department extinguished the fire and more than half of the playground equipment was destroyed," Shaw states in his report.
   Shaw also states in his report that EHDA Director Kelly Geagley estimated the value of the playground equipment to be approximately $6,000.
   After the second fire, officers with the Elizabethton Police Department spoke to residents in the area of the playground and eyewitnesses identified a group of juveniles who had been seen in the area of the playground around the time the second fire started.
   On Wednesday, officers spoke with the juveniles in question and one of the juveniles confessed to starting the first fire and then told the officers that she had seen the male juvenile start the second fire.
   According to Geagley, the playground was one of four new playgrounds which was built using capital fund monies for improvement. He stated that the playground had not been opened for use yet.