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Arson Arrests Prompt Penn State to Suspend Entire Men's Rugby Team, Cancel Two Weekend Games

by on March 21, 2014 1:38 PM

Penn State Intercollegiate Athletics announced Friday that the entire men's rugby team has been suspended following the arrest of two team members for an on-campus arson.

Penn State Athletic Department Spokesman Jeff Nelson says the entire team is suspended from practice and competition effective immediately. That means the team's games slated for this weekend against Navy and Susquehanna University are canceled.

Additionally, Nelson says the Student Conduct office started a judicial review of the arson now that Penn State police filed charges against two team members for the Jan. 14 incident.

"Athletics is looking into the matter as well," Nelson says. "There will not be any further comment on this matter until the Student Conduct office and Athletics have completed their reviews."

Police charged Christopher John Petri, 22, of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Sean Robert Herbert, 21, of Ester-Surrey, United Kingdom for using lighter fluid to start a fire at an on-campus shed causing more than $30,000 in damage, according to court records.

At 12:41 a.m., authorities responded to a burning storage shed in a lot along North Atherton Street, adjacent to the soccer fields. The shed was used to store equipment for the rugby and cross country teams. Alpha Fire Company responded and extinguished the blaze.

During an investigation, police located a cell phone roughly 10 feet from the fire site. State College police determined the phone's owner was another rugby player who was not charged with the crime.

Authorities then conducted interviews with rugby players, coaches, staff and potential witnesses, which revealed "discontent within the ranks of the men's PSU rugby team," an affidavit states. "The information relayed issues of disagreement with the head coach, his coaching style, and the overall status of the team."

Through the investigation, police determined the team held a party with alcohol at the "rugby house" in the 100 block of North Patterson Street, which is within walking distance to the fire site. Nine team members live in the house and other team members gather and socialize there.

At the party, witnesses reportedly heard players complaining about the state of the rugby team and conversations about "going to 'mess with the shed' and other comments relating to setting fire to the shed or related contained materials," the affidavit says.

Soon after, Petri and Herbert allegedly left the house party.

As police were investigating, Petri and Herbert hired attorneys and their attorneys then contacted to police. Police then interviewed both defendants.

During those interviews with police the defendants allegedly admitted to starting the fire and then tossing the lighter and lighter fluid bottle in a dumpster.

Police charged both defendants with arson, conspiracy to commit arson and related offenses. Magisterial District Judge Leslie Dutchcot set the defendants' bails at $25,000 unsecured. The preliminary hearing is slated for March 26.

Men's rugby is a team sport that is part of Penn State's Club sports program.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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