West Virginia Ladder Truck Falls Through Bridge

Feb. 23--KEYSER, W.Va. -- A 44-year-old Keyser man remained jailed without bond Saturday afternoon following an overnight fire that destroyed a Sunnydale Addition residence where he lived, an adjacent garage and a neighboring residence.

Two minivans were also destroyed by the fire that caused a loss estimated preliminarily at $200,000.

The incident also caused damage to the first-responding Keyser fire department ladder truck that partially toppled into Stoney Run when a wooded access bridge collapsed.

No injuries were reported in the 1:20 a.m. incident.

The residents of the destroyed structure escaped the fire without injury -- as did three firefighters in the ladder truck who were rescued by fellow firefighters using ladders, according to Mike Simpson, Keyser Volunteer Fire Department's assistant chief.

Mineral County Sheriff's Office and West Virginia State Police responded to the scene to investigate a domestic complaint about an hour before the fire was reported.

During the fire response -- which was delayed by about 20 minutes by the bridge collapse and overturning of the ladder truck -- the sheriff's office took into custody at the scene Robert Lee Suter on a charge of first-degree arson. He was being held without bond at the Potomac Highlands Regional Jail.

Simpson said the first alarm came shortly after 1 a.m.

"We got a call for an unknown type of fire in the Sunnydale Addition. Our first unit in was our ladder truck and as it entered the development, a wooden access bridge collapsed blocking the only entrance into the development," said Simpson.

Firefighters soon found another access bridge but were forced to travel across two residential yards to access the fire scene.

"The residents were very nice and cooperative. But it slowed our response with the bridge collapse," said Simpson.

Preliminary investigation reportedly showed that Suter allegedly ignited items in the garage before the fire spread from the garage to the residence that he reportedly occupied with his wife.

"It caught the house on fire and two minivans and it was all a total loss. But the outcome could have been a lot worse," said Simpson.

He said the ladder truck's rear outrigger saved the apparatus from falling fully into Stoney Run.

The extent of damage to the department's 75-foot KME aerial ladder is not yet known. "We are waiting for a manufacturing company representative to come in and inspect it. But it could be a total loss. We just don't know yet," he said.

The early morning fire also caused unspecified damage to a nearby residence. Both residences involved in the fire are owned by Suter's parents, according to Simpson.

Keyser, Burlington, New Creek, McCoole, Potomac and Piedmont volunteer fire departments responded along with Tri-Towns and Keyser EMS units.

The incident remains under investigation by the West Virginia State Fire Marshal's Office.

Jeffrey Alderton may be contacted at jlalderton@times-news.com.

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