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Deschutes DA explains move to not file arson charges

Says he needs to know if accidental or intentional

Man released after arrested on...

BEND, Ore. - (Update: More comments from Hummel, Bend police)

A 73-year-old resident of a southeast Bend assisted living center, arrested on dozens of arson and other charges in a weekend fire that forced evacuation of the facility, has been released pending the results of an investigation into what happened, the Deschutes County District Attorney's Office said Monday.

"We are looking at whether this was an accidental fire or an intentionally set fire," District Attorney John Hummel told NewsChannel 21. "If we determine it was intentionally set, then we have to ask ourselves if we know who set it."

Police and fire personnel responded shortly before midnight Friday to the Regency Village at Bend, located at 127 Southeast Wilson Avenue on a report of a structure fire, said police Lt. Clint Burleigh.

Neighbors reported seeing flames climbing the south side of the building, Burleigh said. While firefighters were on the way, community members actively notified staff about the fire on the building’s exterior -- and the smoke alarms were not sounding.

"We had neighbors awake at the time, paying attention, seeing the fire, and were out knocking on the doors getting staff's attention, because the alarms had not gone off yet," Burleigh said. "The fire was at the exterior, so at that point, with the neighbors being so aware, no doubt in my mind saved somebody."

Police and fire personnel helped evacuate residents of the care facility, while firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, allowing residents and staff to return inside. The room most affected by the fire was vacant, Burleigh said.

Officers soon learned a resident of the facility was considered a suspect, Burleigh said. Police talked with staff and the man  and determined he was allegedly responsible for the fire.

In a news release, Burleigh said the man “was found with items consistent with someone starting a fire. Several other evidentiary factors led investigators to believe (he) was the person responsible for the fire.”

He was taken to St. Charles Bend for a medical evaluation, then to the Deschutes County Jail, where he was booked on 67 counts each of first-degree arson and attempted criminally negligent homicide – one for each life threatened -- and a single count of criminal mischief, Burleigh said. His bail totaled more than $5 million, pending a scheduled court appearance Monday.

But on Monday, Hummel's office announced that the man had been released from jail as the investigation continues.

The announcement said "Hummel and his deputies are working with Bend Police Department detectives and Bend Fire Department investigators to determine what happened, when it happened, and who is responsible for it happening."

Hummel put it this way to NewsChannel 21: "In a short period of time, with a case as complex as an arson investigation, where you have scientific evidence to look at, it's not that I have determined no crime was committed. It's that I haven't yet decided if a crime has been committed."

The DA's office statement said that If the suspect "or someone else is determined by the district attorney to have committed a crime connected to this fire, the district attorney will ask the court to issue an arrest warrant." 

Hummel said his office should know within the next couple of days if a crime allegedly happened, and what charges should be filed against whom.


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