A fire last month that injured two brothers renting a second-floor duplex unit was set by the homeowner's girlfriend following a lover's spat, according to charges filed Tuesday.
The suspect, Deanna L. Thielbar, and her boyfriend who owned the duplex, Dennis Johnson, lived in the lower unit at 425 Goodrich Av. on St. Paul's West End. A 67-year-old man living in the upstairs unit was rescued by teenager Ricardo Martinez who heard screaming from the building. The man's brother, 65, was later found by firefighters lying unconscious on the floor of the unit. Both men were transported to Regions Hospital for burns and smoke inhalation.
Thielbar, 46, of Pine City, is charged in Ramsey County District Court with one count of first-degree arson for the July 21 fire. She was charged via arrest warrant and is not in custody.
According to the complaint: Johnson told police that Thielbar had been living with him and his grown daughter for two months. Johnson said he and Thielbar argued earlier in the evening of July 20. Johnson went to bed, and Thielbar went for a walk with Johnson's nephew. Thielbar returned home about 9 p.m. and continued arguing with Johnson.
It's unclear what Thielbar and Johnson were arguing about.
Johnson and his nephew left the house and went to a bar. Thielbar was left at the home.
One neighbor told police that she heard Thielbar and Johnson arguing on July 20, and that she saw Thielbar drive away at one point, returning around midnight, the complaint said. The neighbor heard someone "banging around" in the back yard, saw Thielbar walk to the front of the building about 12:10 a.m. and then heard two loud explosions.
"The garage and the house were engulfed in flames, with the fire spreading between the house and the garage," the complaint said. "Thielbar's vehicle was gone."
In an interview with the Star Tribune hours after the fire, Ricardo Martinez, who was 16 at the time, said he and his friends were working on music at a house across the street when they heard screaming. One of the friends looked out a window and saw flames. Martinez phoned for help, put his tank top around his face and climbed onto the roof of the front porch to rescue one of the second-floor tenants.
"As I was going into the house I was thinking, 'What if the floorboards go out? Or it collapses and I get stuck in there?' " Martinez said. "But I still had that thinking that if I don't do something now, he may not make it. So, I just did my best."
When fire crews arrived shortly after 12:30 a.m., Martinez was standing on the porch roof with one tenant. The smoke was too thick inside for Martinez to access the second tenant. Firefighters found the second tenant lying on the floor unconscious.
Johnson tried to force his way inside the building to rescue pets he believe were inside, the complaint said. It's unclear if any pets perished in the fire.
While officers and fire investigators were at the scene interviewing witnesses, Thielbar drove by, the complaint said. A neighbor pointed out her presence, and Thielbar agreed to speak with a fire investigator. Thielbar said she went home to the duplex after work that night, left later with Johnson's nephew and then returned to the home.
Thielbar told the investigator that at some point she realized that Johnson and his nephew were gone, so she drove to Pine City where her parents live, according to the complaint. Thielbar said she stopped in Vadnais Heights, drove by her parents' house in Pine City and returned to the duplex in St. Paul.
Thielbar denied setting the fire, the complaint said. Confronted with the neighbor's eyewitness account of her alleged actions about 12:10 a.m., Thielbar said she lied about driving to Pine City. Thielbar eventually admitted to using her lighter to set a toilet paper roll on fire while she was using the bathroom, the complaint said.
Thielbar also told the investigator that she lit a fire on the back porch on some shelves, according to the charge. She was not arrested, but was admitted to a hospital after making comments about hurting herself and feeling depressed, the complaint said.
In a follow-up interview, Thielbar told authorities that she tried to light the toilet paper on fire but it didn't work, so she lit something on fire in the porch, the complaint said. She said that after lighting the fire, she drove to Johnson's brother's house, turned around and returned to the duplex and pulled around a corner when she saw the fire trucks and panicked.
Thielbar tried to sleep in her car, but was unable to, the complaint said. That's when she drove by the fire again and was stopped by police.
St. Paul fire investigator Jamie Novak determined that one fire started in the first-floor bathroom and another started in the back porch, where the most extensive damage occurred.
Three men allegedly tried to pull a McDonald's employee through a drive-thru window and then jumped through the window and attacked him, according to charges filed recently.
The men are members of the East Side Boys and Ham Crazy gangs, according to charges. The employee who was attacked at the St. Paul McDonald's had tried to start a relationship with the ex-girlfriend of another alleged Ham Crazy gang member. The employee told police that the suspects had been harassing him at work for a month.
The Ham Crazy gang is an affiliate of the East Side Boys. Both gangs are known for violent attacks and have been tied to several murders of teenagers and young adults in St. Paul.
Evan K. McMillan, 18, of St. Paul, was charged Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court with aiding and abetting first degree burglary while committing assault, and aiding and abetting crime committed for the benefit of a gang. Willie C. Lassiter, 18, of St. Paul, was charged with identical counts.
Keith L. Garrett Jr., 20, was charged Thursday with aiding and abetting first-degree burglary while committing assault, and crime committed for the benefit of a gang. He was charged via arrest warrant and is not in custody. He has no known address.
According to the complaints: The men pulled up to the McDonald's at 1388 E. Maryland Ave. about 3:23 a.m. on July 24. They argued with a 24-year-old employee at the first drive-thru window. The employee told police that the men drove up to the second drive-thru, spat at him and tried to drag him out the window. He punched and broke their car window.
The men pulled to the side and stopped. They got out of their vehicle, opened the drive-thru window and jumped in, attacking the employee and causing him minor injuries, the charges said.
Lassiter was arrested on July 28. He told police that Garrett opened the window and entered, with McMillan on his heels. Garrett and McMillan fought with the employee, Lassiter told police. Lassiter said he entered the window after he saw a different employee hitting his friend with a pole. Lassiter denied attacking anyone, but admitted to throwing a pot of coffee, the charges said. Lassiter didn't think anyone was harmed by the coffee pot.
McMillan was later arrested and told police that the group went to McDonald's to buy food. He said that the employee was rude at the intercom, and that the two argued. The employee punched the car window twice, McMillan told police. McMillan, who was driving, told police that he, Lassiter and Garrett jumped through the drive-thru window because the restaurant's doors are locked at 10 p.m., the complaint said.
McMillan said that once inside the fast food restaurant, he and Garrett attacked the employee they had tried to pull out the window, according to the charges. Lassiter jumped in the window to help Garrett when a different employee struck Garrett with a pole, McMillan allegedly told police.
One witness said there were four men in the car when it first pulled up. Two other witnesses said three men got out of the car and jumped through the drive-thru window.
BY CHAO XIONG
Richard Johann and Vanessa Pryor spoke to the media outside a duplex that caught fire Monday.
Vanessa Pryor stood in front of the burned duplex that used to be her North End home Tuesday afternoon and said she was thankful.
Her sister and 6-month-old niece were able to escape the fire that ravaged the home at 1210 Albemarle St. on Monday night thanks to a man who pulled them from a window.
Pryor, 31, had been at a park with her children when she received a call around 7:30 or 8 p.m. Monday saying that her house was on fire. She went back to the home worried that her younger sister, who had been visiting with her daughter, could be hurt.
"First thing that went through my head is my sister," Pryor said.
When she got to the home, her sister and niece had already been rescued. Other witnesses told her that there had been two boys who had taken lighter fluid and set fire to a couch in the abandoned unit next to her's, Pryor said.
Richard Johann said in a story in Tuesday's Star Tribune that he was standing outside the nearby Tin Cup restaurant when he saw black smoke down the block and realized something was wrong. After he ran to the home, he pushed on the screen of an open window and saw Pryor's sister standing there holding a baby. Johann told her that she had to get out, and the woman handed the baby to him and he handed the baby to his friend. As emergency crews arrived, Johann grabbed the woman and got her out as well, he said.
"I just wanted to see if I could assist in any way," Johann said on Tuesday, as Pryor stood next to him.
Pryor said her sister saw boys sitting on the porch of the duplex and noticed the smell of smoke, but she hadn't realized the seriousness of the fire. She had been in Pryor's bedroom when she was rescued.
"Scary...There's a chance that she could have not made it out of there," Pryor said.
St. Paul Fire Marshal Steve Zaccard said Tuesday that the cause of the fire was still under investigation. A sign on a tree in front of the duplex said that the fire was suspected to be the result of arson and that rewards were available for information leading to the identification of those responsible.
If children started the fire, Pryor said she hopes they are taught a lesson but not placed behind bars.
"They're kids...They don't know better," she said.
Pryor is trying to figure out what she will do next. She wasn't able to recover anything from her home, and she didn't have renter's insurance. She is staying in a hotel for a few days with the help of the Red Cross, but she's not sure what she will do after that.
"I'm still lost right now," she said.
Funds to help Pryor and her family can be deposited at any Wells Fargo Bank by giving her name.
A duplex fire last week in the city was also suspected to be the result of arson. A 16-year-old boy helped save someone from that fire which broke out on St. Paul’s West End on July 21.
St. Paul Public Schools is conducting an internal investigation into the criminal case against an assistant principal who is charged with failing to report alleged sexual misconduct by a custodian.
District spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey said Monday that the district is investigating the case against Jackson Elementary assistant principal Craig A. Guidry. Stewart Downey said Guidry is not working summer school. Few other details were available.
Guidry, 52, of Arden Hills, was charged July 14 in Ramsey County District Court with one count of misdemeanor failure to report the maltreatment of minors. The case stems from his tenure as assistant principal at Linwood Monroe Arts Plus during the 2011-2012 school year, during which time a student alleged that custodian Walter J. Happel smacked him in the buttocks and made a suggestive remark.
Beth A. Behnke, 48, of Burnsville, was principal of Linwood Monroe at the time and was also charged with the same count levied against Guidry. Linwood Monroe is a pre-K-8 school.
Behnke and Guidry are accused of failing to meet Minnesota's mandatory reporter law, which requires people such as educators and clergy to report suspected neglect and physical or sexual abuse of minors within 24 hours of learning about it.
Behnke is listed as principal at Falcon Heights Elementary School on the Roseville Area Schools website. Roseville Area Schools spokeswoman Karen Schaub said last week that news of the criminal case against Behnke was a "surprise" to the district.
"We are still, I guess, determining what's going on," Schaub said early last week.
Roseville Area Schools has not responded to multiple messages seeking an update on Behnke's job status.
Authorities believe that Guidry and Behnke had enough knowledge of Happel's alleged misconduct with underage boys to have known that the January 2012 butt-smacking incident merited a call to police. In December 2011, another boy had complained that Happel followed him into a bathroom, showed him his genitals and made a suggestive remark, according to the charges against Guidry and Behnke.
St. Paul Schools Assistant Superintendent Sharon Freeman sent a letter about the criminal investigation to parents on Friday, July 18.
"There have been recent news reports that mentioned Craig Guidry, assistant principal at Jackson Elementary," Freeman wrote. "I'm writing to provide information based on what's already been reported in the media because we feel it's important to communicate directly with families and staff of the Jackson Elementary community."
Freeman informed parents about the internal investigation and reminded them that the district has enacted new policies in light of the criminal charges filed against Happel. Those measures include regular walk-throughs of school buildings by principals and training on Minnesota's mandatory reporting law, among other efforts.
Happel, 62, of Newport, started working for the district in 1984 and resigned in February when an 11-year-old student at Linwood Monroe said that Happel peeked at him while he was using a bathroom stall. That led to a number of reports to police and Happel being charged in eight cases in Ramsey County District Court. Six of his alleged victims are students at Linwood Monroe. Happel allegedly pressed his genitals onto one boy's buttocks in 2010 at Linwood Monroe, according to charges.
Two other victims include a family friend and a relative who were allegedly sexually assaulted about 30 years ago.
While investigating the cases against Happel, authorities uncovered district documents showing that Guidry and Behnke allegedly had knowledge of the December 2011 and January 2012 incidents, but never reported the smacking case to police. Multiple staff members had also raised concerns to school administrators about Happel following boys into bathrooms and giving students candy, according to the charges against Behnke and Guidry.