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Published: Friday, 2/18/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Woman, 19, confesses to arson, police say

Perrysburg apartment damage is $600,000

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Chelsie Smothers Chelsie Smothers
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A woman accused of starting a fire that caused about $600,000 in damage to a Perrysburg apartment complex reportedly confessed to the crime.

Chelsie Smothers, 19, who lived in the Perry Lake Village apartment where investigators suspect the blaze began, confessed to setting the fire, according to a police affidavit filed in Perrysburg Municipal Court. She was arraigned Thursday on a first-degree felony charge of aggravated arson.

Judge S. Dwight Osterud set bond at $50,000 and scheduled a preliminary hearing for Feb. 24.

Ms. Smothers, who is being held in the Wood County jail, was arrested Wednesday after an interview with investigators at the Perrysburg police station, Deputy Chief Mike Gilmore said.

"That fire did cause physical harm to several residents that were asleep in their apartments in the apartment building on Lake Vue Drive at the time of the fire," Detective Douglas Kinder wrote in the affidavit. "Chelsie Smothers did confess to setting the fire."

Shane Cartmill, a spokesman for the State Fire Marshal's Office, which assisted with the investigation, said evidence collected at the scene coupled with statements by Ms. Smothers led to her arrest.

"We're not releasing specifics of how and where the fire was started, and those will not be released at this time because it is a criminal investigation," he said.

Police declined to discuss a motive in the arson case.

Court records show that Ms. Smothers was charged with domestic violence in September for striking and scratching her live-in boyfriend, Christopher Bryson, 20, in the face at the Perry Lake Village apartment. A finding in the case was deferred as Ms. Smothers was referred to a domestic violence program for women.

Deputy Chief Gilmore said Mr. Bryson was not home at the time of the fire and the deputy chief did not think the incidents were related.

"Who knows what type of relationship they had? Who knows what was going on?" he said. "Obviously something was going on, and she did make some statements, but I don't want to head down that path."

Numerous residents of the apartment complex were displaced by the fire, which seriously damaged 8 of the 24 apartments in the building where the fire began.

The Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the American Red Cross said it had helped 21 adults and one child with food and clothing, while eight families were provided rooms at area hotels. By Thursday, the Red Cross had spent $4,400 helping those displaced by the fire.

Deputy Chief Gilmore said Officer Rich Cartwright noticed smoke coming from the apartment building about 12:10 a.m. Wednesday. He alerted fire crews and, with the help of two other officers who arrived at the scene -- Sgt. Dan Maciejewski and Officer Greg Cole -- began banging on doors awakening residents and helping them evacuate.

Mr. Cartmill said some occupants suffered minor injuries, but none was seriously hurt. He said smoke alarms were present and working in the affected apartments.

"They did activate and likely they did help additional people get out and escape injury," he said.

Deputy Chief Gilmore said the officers deserved credit for going into the smoke-filled building and getting people out safely.

"When you start looking at the badness of what the suspect did, just think people are minding their own business sleeping and in a flash, everything they have is gone through no fault of their own," he said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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