Teen charged in fire at home
The blaze began in the bedroom where the teen slept, a fire department official says.
By KELLY VIRELLA
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 29, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG - No one was injured by the smoke and flames from an early Thursday morning fire that destroyed a family's five-bedroom house.

But after investigators determined the cause of the fire at 4610 16th St. N, the family had another concern.

Police arrested and charged on suspicion of arson the family's 13-year-old foster son, who was taken to Pinellas County's Juvenile Assesment Center.

Wilcox's foster parents, Alan and Carolyn Stevers, have received good marks in every inspection, said Paul Buxbaum, executive director of Carlton Manor, a St. Petersburg nonprofit in charge of ensuring that the foster home met Wilcox's needs.

Buxbaum said he thinks the teenager started the fire by accident, while playing with matches or a lighter.

"This family was very, very accepting of this young man and very empathic and deeply caring," Buxbaum said. "Second, as far as the child is concerned, it is my understanding that he loved this family."

Police spokesman Bill Proffitt said Thursday night that police are not considering reducing or dropping the arson charge.

"I doubt very seriously we would go and arrest somebody and drop the charges the same day," Proffitt said.

The St. Petersburg Fire Department got a call about the fire at 5:30 a.m., said fire Chief Bill Jolley.

The fire started in the north side of the house, in a converted garage bedroom where the teenager slept, said department spokesman Rick Feinberg. It traveled south, causing smoke and heat damage and destroying some of the home's roof supports.

The youth, whose identity is being withheld because of his age, has lived with the Stevers for nearly two years, Buxbaum said.

He has been arrested twice on felony charges: once in September 2001 in connection with the aggravated battery of a police officer, and two months later in connection with the throwing of a deadly missile, Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show. The outcome of those charges was not known late Thursday.

Buxbaum said the teenager was not a threat.

"He has no history of fire setting or serious or dangerous behavior that would endanger himself or his family or the community," he said.

- Staff writer Curtis Krueger and researchers Cathy Wos and Caryn Baird contributed to this report.