Posted: May 9, 2005 9:56 am EST

Employee charged in plant's $12 million fire (~18 col. in.)
by Ken de la Bastide, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson Ind.
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    By Ken de la Bastide
    CNHI News Service

    ANDERSON, Ind. -- A former arsonist and AMACOR employee has been charged in the plant’s $12 million fire.
    Officials arrested Darrin Dettra, 39, Chesterfield, Ind., late last week on a class A felony charge of arson causing injury in connection with the Jan. 14 fire at the AMACOR magnesium plant. If convicted Dettra, who has two prior arson convictions in Pennsylvania, is facing up to 50 years in prison.
    Anderson firefighter Tony Lakas injured his shoulder in the fire, requiring surgery and has not been released to resume full duties.
    “We’re confident we have the person who committed the crime,” Prosecutor Rodney Cummings said. “This is a very strong circumstantial case. Evidence gets destroyed in an arson case.”
    The fire was described as powerful and the long time lasting impact on future health and environmental problems is not known, Cummings said.
    He was detained at his residence by Chesterfield Police until Anderson Police arrived with the arrest warrant.
    Dettra was surprised to see police, APD Detective Terry Sollars said. He was described as complying with all requests from police and informed Sollars that he had an open razor knife in his back pocket.
    Dettra was arrested at 9:50 a.m. last Friday at his residence. He is being held at the Madison County Detention Center on a $100,000 cash bond.
    Bruce Murray, vice president with AMACOR, said the company is grateful that the hard work by authorities has resulted in an arrest.
    “We are heartbroken that a former employee is charged with the crime,” he said.
    Company officials declined to comment on how long Dettra worked for AMACOR.
    The Jan. 14 fire caused an estimated $12 million in damages to the AMACOR plant and forced city officials to evacuate 8,000 residents over concerns of toxic fumes being released.
    ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agent Mike Vergon determined the fire was caused by open flame ignition to the available materials in the warehouse, all accidental causes were ruled out.
    Dettra became a suspect because of his criminal history and was present at the plant at the time the fire started, Sollars said.
    A motive for the fire is unknown because Dettra has not provided police with a statement and requested an attorney at the time of his arrest.
    Sollars said specifics concerning evidence would not be discussed so the case would not be jeopardized. He said there are surveillance tapes available but he wouldn’t discuss what was on them.
    “When we finalized the investigation, there was no reason not to arrest him,” Sollars said. “From everything we know, he acted alone.”
    A probable cause affidavit said Dettra was the last person in the warehouse prior to the fire starting.
    Court records show that Dettra approached several Chesterfield firefighters last December and asked how to extinguish a magnesium fire.
    Dettra reportedly made comments to firefighters that he didn’t think Anderson knew how to fight a magnesium fire and would probably put water on it.
    He also inquired how to get a job with the Chesterfield Fire Department since he had previous arson convictions.
    Dettra had been reprimanded by his supervisor in the past for safety violations and termination procedures were starting to be implemented, according to the court records.
    Witness Shawn Fox told investigators that Dettra showed him how simple it is to light magnesium dust and set fire to a work glove covered with magnesium dust on fire with a cigarette lighter.
    Employees of AMACOR were interviewed after the fire and investigators talked to Dettra several times, Sollars said.
    “We were putting everything together,” he said. “Tips came in quickly after the fire.”
    AMACOR purchased the company from Xstrata in 2003. Xstrata moved into Anderson in 2001 when it purchased Plant 19 from General Motors for $3 million. GM then donated the $3 million to the city of Anderson for the Flagship Enterprise Business Development Center.

    Ken de la Bastide writes for The Herald Bulletin in Anderson, Ind.

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