Terre Haute, IN – Arson fire at corrections facility contained by automatic sprinkler system

A man used a portable weed sprayer full of flammable liquid as he set fire inside multiple offices of the state parole office of Vigo County Community Correction early last Wednesday. Arson investigator Norm Loudermilk of the Terre Haute Fire Department said surveillance video shows the man – dressed in black and wearing a face mask – use a pry bar to open a locked public access door of the building and carry the container into the building. Minutes later, fire alarms sounded.

Multiple offices were entered and sprayed with the accelerant, then set ablaze, Loudermilk said.  The building sprinkler system suppressed the fire, but the building sustained smoke and water damage.  Loudermilk described the suspect as a white male about 5-feet, 10-inches tall and weighing about 230 pounds. He is seen on video walking up to the building from the south, and exiting about a half-hour later.

“It was obvious that the fires were set in each of the offices. Not all of the offices were burned, but each office had been gone through and then several offices were set on fire,” Loudermilk said of the state parole office, where firefighters found heavy smoke when they arrived.  Loudermilk said no one saw the suspect enter or exit the building, though one staff member was on break outside the building at the time the suspect left.  The alarm sounded about 3:43 a.m.

About 60 people were inside the building, which houses the work release center for community corrections.

Those people were evacuated safely with no injuries, and held outside the building. The fact that people were inside the building asleep in dormitories at the time the fire was set makes the arson even more serious, Loudermilk said.

Tips about the suspect can be submitted to the Terre Haute Police Department at 812-238-1661 or through Crime Stoppers at 812-238-STOP.

Firefighters entered the building to find the fire supression system had worked.

Bill Watson, executive director of community corrections, said the door entered by the suspect was not alarmed because it is a public access door used daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., when it is locked by staff.

Video shows the staff locking and checking the door to make sure it was secure, Watson said.

Water and smoke damage occurred throughout the building, he said. Ceiling tiles were water-soaked and must be removed.

Teams from ServePro were cleaning up the dormitory area and control room of work release Wednesday morning. Watson said he expected to have residents moved back into two dormitories today.

About 54 to 56 residents and 4 staff were in the buildling when the fire alarm sounded, Watson said. All exited the building without injury.

“We had protocols in place and those were followed,” Watson said. “They shut down our systems so that damage was minimized, so we should be able to get the security system back online.”

The second floor of the building houses offices for the Title IV-D court, county probation, state parole and Choices Consulting Center, which offers drug and alcohol counseling services.

Community corrections, which includes work release and electronic monitoring, are housed on the first floor of the building.

Forensic teams from THPD were at the scene processing evidence, including collecting fingerprints and liquid believed to be accelerant.