Residence hall fire under investigation

By Greg Rivara

Although the suspected arson fire on the 10th floor of Stevenson Towers North occurred four hours after residence hall night security went on duty, floor residents do not believe they are living among the persons responsible.

Tim Taylor, a 10th floor resident, discovered the fire shortly before 3 a.m. Friday morning when he returned from work. He said the floor was quiet and he did not see anything unusual as he stepped out of the elevator. “I don’t think it was anyone on the floor,” he said.

A two-seated couch placed on a larger couch was set ablaze in the floor’s lounge and the fire is being considered arson. The lounge door was closed when the fire was discovered, Taylor said,

NIU President John LaTourette said the stacked lounge furniture, the fire exit door propped open with a spoon and the early morning fire support the “suspicious nature” of the fire.

Mark Fussinger, a 10th floor resident, said some of the lounge furniture “was piled up on top of the couch,” and he “can’t believe” anyone on the floor is responsible.

Pieces of lounge furniture occasionally are stacked on top of each other as a joke, but residents do not think the furniture was stacked and then accidentally set on fire.

Early reports do not indicate that an accelerant was used in the fire, although the positioning of the furniture might have been intended as an accelerant, LaTourette said.

Early suspicion arose among floor residents that the fire might have accidently started from a cigarette because some floor residents smoke. However, resident Joe Saucedo said he does not think the fire was accidentally started, with or without a cigarette.

“It seemed like it was planned. I can’t see it starting from a cigarette,” he said.

The fire is under investigation by the Univesity Police Department and the DeKalb Fire Department.

“It does not look accidental. My report will say it was set on fire,” said DeKalb Fire Department Lt. Stanley Croom.

NIU Public Safety Director James Elliot said if the persons responsible for the blaze are caught, they might be charged with criminal damage to state-supported land.

NIU Legal Counsel George Shur said criminal damange to property is a Class A misdemeanor, and is punishable by a fine up to $1,000 and a jail term of no more than one year. Arson is a Class II felony, and is punished by a sentence of three to seven years and a fine up to $10,000, he said.