Two of the three defendants charged in connection to an arson at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park appeared in Juneau District Court Thursday for their arraignment, as members of the fire department watched the proceedings from the back of the courtroom.
“We just want to see it go through the system like it’s supposed to,” Capital City Fire and Rescue Fire Marshal Daniel Jager said after the hearing, standing alongside his deputy, Sven Pearson, and two other firefighters.
Prosecutors say Dillon P. West, 24, Ryan M. Martin, 23, and Ashley R. Johnston, 18, were all caught on video surveillance footage just before CCFR responded to the fire at the park a little before 4 a.m. on June 19.
The fire near the bleachers caused about $20,000 in damages as it burned materials being used to replace the tarp football field, including a tractor, spreader trailer and special adhesive glue, fire investigators said.
On Thursday, Judge Thomas Nave read the charges against West and Martin, who sat next to each other in the back of the courtroom before their names were called to come to the defendant’s table, and appointed public defenders to represent them.
Johnston did not show up for the hearing, and Nave issued a $500 bench warrant for her arrest. An intern with the District Attorney’s Office, Thomas Derbesy, told the judge she had been evading phone calls and contact with authorities after she was informed of her summons by a Department of Public Safety officer. Electronic court records show a summons was issued to Alaska State Troopers on July 17, and that it went unserved.
West is facing three misdemeanor charges in connection to the arson: criminal trespass, criminal mischief and furnishing alcohol to persons under 21. Those are all class ‘A’ misdemeanors, and if convicted on all counts, the maximum penalty possible would be three years in prison.
During a financial inquiry, West said he works at Bullwinkle’s Pizza Parlor and Marlintini’s Lounge and cannot afford an attorney. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf, and a jury trial was scheduled for Oct. 23.
West was released on his own recognizance, as was Martin, which means they don’t have to post bail but still must abide by certain conditions. Specifically in this case, they were ordered to avoid Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
“By that I mean you can go by on Glacier Highway, but don’t go in there — the parking lot, the field, any of that is off limits for you,” Nave said.
Martin is facing a more serious felony charge — third-degree criminal mischief — in addition to two ‘A’ misdemeanors: criminal trespass and furnishing alcohol to persons under 21.
Third-degree criminal mischief is a class ‘C’ felony that can carry up to five years in prison. If convicted on all counts, Martin could be facing up to seven years in prison.
Martin told the judge he has been unemployed for about year. Nave scheduled a preliminary hearing for Aug. 10, which would be vacated if a grand jury returns an indictment.
Johnston is also facing the same felony charge as well as two class ‘B’ misdemeanors — second-degree criminal trespass and possession or consumption of alcohol by persons under 21 — that can carry up to 90 days in prison each.
If convicted on all counts, the maximum penalty she could receive is five and a half years in prison.
Assistant District Attorney Amy Williams charged the three defendants via criminal information on July 13.
According to an affidavit she filed, a motion-activated video camera, which the city installed at the park in December, recorded four people walking in the area of the concession stand at about 1:50 a.m then jumping the fence encircling the football field.
The video shows them walking around the football field and the area around the bleachers, according to the affidavit.
A police officer who reviewed the footage immediately identified Martin, the affidavit states, and Dillon and Johnston were identified later.
At about 3:26 a.m. a camera by the announcer’s booth atop the bleachers recorded the discharge of some white powder or smoke, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit states that city officials had found a spent fire extinguisher next to the Juneau Youth Football League building on top of the bleachers, and the interior of the building was covered by a thin layer of white powder.
Martin admitted to police they tampered with the fire extinguisher, according to the affidavit. He also admitted to starting a small fire but putting it out, the affidavit states.
But as for who started the fire, the stories differ.
Martin and West both told police that Johnston started the fire, but Johnston said it was them and that they gave her rum and Jack Daniels.
“... West had said ‘let’s start a fire’ and ‘light that sombitch’ ... After someone had started the fire and Johnston and West had tried to put it out, Martin had started lighting up more, asking, ‘why did you put it out?’” the affidavit reads, paraphrasing an interview Johnston gave to police.
The affidavit states that Eric Pratt, the field supervisor for Shaw Sportexe, the company that was replacing the turf field and whose materials were destroyed, said the fire destroyed 120 jugs of adhesive valued at $54 each, a Meter Matic spreader/hopper valued at around $6,000 and a John Deere tractor that had been damaged in an unknown amount.
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.