Arrest Made in Huge Wash. Student Apt. Complex Fire

July 23, 2013
A plumbing subcontractor at the Pullman construction site has been arrested in connection with a fire that caused close to $13 million in damage.

July 23--The Pullman Police Department arrested 31-year-old Pullman resident Bryan Lee Kitchen on Monday in connection with the huge July 14 fire at The Grove apartment complex in Pullman.

Following a lengthy interview, police arrested Kitchen just after 4 p.m. on a charge of first-degree arson, alleging he intentionally set the fire that consumed four buildings under construction, damaged several others and displaced hundreds of future occupants.

"We talked to him a few times over the course of the investigation, and we discovered a number of inconsistencies in his statements," Police Chief Gary Jenkins said. "When we confronted him with some of those inconsistencies, he made certain admissions that allowed us to connect the dots that he was the person responsible for setting the fire."

Kitchen, who began working as a plumbing subcontractor at the construction site in July, has been a person of interest in the investigation since the morning of the fire, when his unoccupied vehicle was found near the construction site, Jenkins said. Investigators originally contacted Kitchen that morning to find out what reason he had for his vehicle being at the scene.

"It wasn't a criminal case until the end of this last week, when the scene investigation was complete and the (Pullman) Fire Department concluded that the fire had been intentionally set," Jenkins said.

Kitchen is the only suspect in the case, but police have yet to determine a motive for his actions.

"A motive is something that we've been trying to determine throughout the investigation," Jenkins said. "At this point, we haven't been able to determine one."

Workers at the site, as well as representatives at The Grove office, said they had been told they could not comment while the incident was under investigation.

Earlier this week, however, one contractor, Matthew Thivierge, who poured concrete for SiteWorx at the site, said he wasn't especially surprised when he heard about the fire.

"People have been complaining ever since we laid the first foundation," he told the Daily News. "No one was getting paid properly. It took me about a month and a half to get my first paycheck, and the checks were always different, even though I worked the same number of hours."

The work was also unreliable, Thivierge said, because other workers would park on the site where they needed to dig. He said there was a two-week period where he didn't work at all because Campus Crest, The Grove's parent company, had equipment parked where his company needed to work.

Thivierge is waiting to hear if or when his company will resume work on the site.

In response to the unreliable work and pay, he said many contractors began to grumble and hinted they might make up their lost wages by stealing tools or muttering about setting fires.

"There's been a few people making sly comments about if they didn't get paid, they wouldn't be surprised if something happened -- whether it be tools getting stolen or lighting something on fire," Thivierge said. "There's been five or six people I heard in the past who've said they couldn't wait for the place to burn down."

Kitchen, who has no prior criminal record, now faces a class A felony, which carries a maximum of life in prison and up to $50,000 in fines. He has been transported to Whitman County Jail in Colfax until further hearings.

"The U.S. Attorney's Office is going to review the case and determine whether they will take it for federal prosecution," Jenkins said. "If that occurs, then they will be the lead agency, and any additional investigative work will be determined by them. If not, the Whitman County Prosecuting Attorney's Office will oversee this case."

The fire department was able to determine, based upon investigation at the scene, that the fire was intentionally set, but authorities said they could not comment as to the nature of the discovery or what evidence led them to conclude the fire was arson.

"We sifted through approximately 63,380 square feet of burnt material in one building," said Rich Dragoo, fire prevention officer for the city. "We do know which building the fire began in because a police officer got there in time to see it spread from one to the others."

Dragoo told the Daily News the fire department would still like copies of photos or videos taken by the public at the earliest stages of the fire before it had spread.

While the completed value of the buildings destroyed has been estimated close to $13 million, getting a true estimate of the cost of the fire will likely never really be possible, Dragoo said.

"I don't know if we'll ever know what the final dollar value of the loss from the fire is," he said. "Estimating the cost of the materials lost, with each building at a different stage of completion, (and) 15 pieces of equipment wiped out. We'll never really be able to know how much stuff the contractors lost -- the plumbers, the HVAC people."

Bill McKee can be reached at (208) 883-4627, or by email to [email protected]. Staff writer Meredith Metsker also contributed.

Copyright 2013 - Moscow-Pullman Daily News, Moscow, Idaho

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