By GRACIE HART
A University of Mary Washington freshman avoided jail time after being held in custody and charged with arson in connection with a Nov. 2 dorm fire that destroyed another student’s door in Alvey Hall.
First year student Johnathan Lawson, who resided in Alvey at the time of the incident, was originally arraigned Nov. 13 on charges that he set what was described as a relatively small fire to the white board on another student’s door at approximately 2:40 a.m. on Nov. 2.
A fire marshall’s investigation led to Lawson’s arrest six days later, on Nov. 8. He was charged with arson, “the malicious burning of a occupied dwelling,” an automatic class 3 felony punishable by a minimum five years in prison. The maximum penalties for malicious burning are life in prison and the $100,000 fine.
“Our biggest concern was that all big fires start out as little fires,” said Fredericksburg Fire Marshall John Nunnally. “Any time that you’re messing around with fire, a little prank or something can end up getting a lot of people hurt.”
“It’s nothing to be playing with,” he added.
On Jan. 31 Lawson’s charges were reduced to damaging a public building, which if less than $1,000 in damages is a class 1 misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of twelve months in prison and up to a $2,500 fine.
According to court records, the court sentenced Lawson to 30 days, all of which were suspended, and a $500 fine that Lawson has paid.
UMW officials wouldn’t comment on what, if any, action the school might take against Lawson. Director of Judicial Affairs and Community Responsibility, Raymond S. Tuttle, Ph.D., explained that the judicial system offers sanctions ranging from a verbal warning to permanent expulsion from the University.
“If a student were to be found responsible through the judicial system for setting a fire in a residence hall — this would not be an honor violation — it would be reasonable to expect that his or her sanction might be, or might include, removal from the residence halls, depending on the situation,” said Tuttle.
Attempts to contact Lawson at his dorm were unsuccessful and a source close to the student has confirmed that Lawson remains a student of the university but is no longer living on campus.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, Fire Departments responded to an estimated 323,900 intentional fires in 2005 resulting in 490 deaths and $1.1 billion in damage.