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Sutton Court Residents Frightened By Second Arson; $2,000 Reward Offered for Information

by on January 26, 2015 11:33 AM

Sutton Court resident Dana Buck describes the scene outside her apartment building on early Sunday morning as one of "intense confusion."

Buck, and many other residents of the Prospect Avenue apartment building, woke up after 3:00 a.m. to the blaring sound of an alarm. Police were responding to a fire alarm that was later determined to be arson -- the second arson at the Sutton Court building in about a month.

"We were all really confused about what was happening. We were outside for maybe 25 minutes," Buck says. "It wasn't until the next morning that we heard it was an arson."

Alpha Fire Company Assistant Chief Rust Schreiner says the fire in question was already out by the time firefighters arrived on scene. Someone had lit a cloth and left it in one the building's hallways, triggering the fire alarm.

"It was a washcloth that had been set of fire," Schreiner says. "You can imagine that a washcloth probably isn't going to cause a lot of damage."

Though the fire caused no damage to the building, it's a cause for concern among the many Penn State students who live in the Sutton Court building. Buck says setting a washcloth on fire might just be drunken weekend antics, but that fact that it happened so soon after a more serious case of arson gives her pause.

On Christmas eve, State College police and the Alpha Fire Company responded to a blaze at 668 East Prospect Avenue, where they battled a fire that was spreading up from the basement. Though safety measures helped ensure that little damage was done, police later ruled the incident an arson. They say that someone broke into the supply room in the basement, where they doused cleaning supplies in accelerant and set the room on fire.

Police can not definitively confirm that the two incidents are related, but say the shared location certainly raises that possibility.

"That's pretty scary. This is happening where we live," Buck says. "Waking up to a fire alarm in the middle of the night is pretty scary, especially because you're already disoriented. To have to deal with this is pretty ridiculous."

The Apartment Store and the State College Police Department are jointly offering a $2,000 reward for any information that leads to an arrest for either arson. Police ask anyone with information to call the police department at 814-234-7150 or to submit an anonymous tip online.

Sutton Court resident Shannon Hoefel says Sunday's fire made her reconsider something that had happened to her earlier in the semester. She had placed a note on her door advising delivery drivers to make sure they had the right apartment, but when she came home one day she found the note burned and her door lightly charred. Hoefel can't say for sure if this is related to the two cases of arson under investigation, but she's bothered by the coincidence.

Keara Donick, another Sutton Court resident, says she actually slept through the fire alarm on Sunday morning. Only when she was scrolling through Twitter the next day did she see reports that the alarm was caused by a suspected arson attempt.

Though she's not sure how seriously to take the washcloth incident, she says "to go into a janitor's closet and set fire to bunch of stuff seems very malicious."

"Honestly, I'm kind of freaked out," Donick says. "I don't feel safe."

Apartment Store representatives did not immediately return requests for comment.

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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for StateCollege.com who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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