3 charged in fire that destroyed historic schoolhouse

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Three Scott County teens were charged late last week with arson and burglary in connection with an April fire that destroyed the Head School, a historic one-room schoolhouse in Scott City.

Cody W. Brashear, 17, and Zackery A. Graham, 17, both of Scott City, and Kerrington B. Moss, 19, of Oran, Mo., each face one count of second-degree arson and one count of second-degree burglary.

Brashear and Moss admitted to fire investigator Rodney Hoelscher that the group set the fire, according to probable-cause affidavits. Bond was set at $25,000 for each defendant, but Moss was released after posting $2,500 in an agreement with the prosecutor.

Firefighters were called to the old schoolhouse in Scott City about 11 p.m. April 29. The fire quickly swept through the wood building and left only the foundation and part of the frame standing.

According to the affidavits, Brashear was questioned June 18 and initially denied knowing anything about the fire. Hoelscher told Brashear a witness positively identified him near the school at the time of the fire, according to the documents, and Brashear admitted he was with Graham and Moss at the school that night. Brashear said Graham kicked down the front door and, after looking around, suggested they burn the place, according to the affidavits.

Brashear said they threw a lit kerosene lantern against the wall and ran outside to watch, according to the documents. The latern apparently didn't break, so the group went back inside, stacked furniture against the back door and lit it on fire with lighters before running off, according to the affidavits.

Moss also admitted to being at the school, helping pile up desks and books and igniting them with a lighter, according to the documents.

Graham said he was at another man's house at the time of the fire, according to the affidavits, but that man said he had not seen Graham that night.

Moss is being represented by Cape Girardeau defense attorney Malcolm Montgomery, who said his client is scheduled to be arraigned July 16.

"We're certainly taking the position that he's not guilty," Montgomery said.

He said he will request a preliminary hearing in the case, but needed to see the prosecution's evidence before making further comment.

Hoelscher and Scott City police chief David Leeman were not available for comment before press time.

The Head School was established in 1858 and closed in the early 1940s, said Carolyn Pendergrass, chairman of the Scott City Historical Preservation Commission. The school was recently moved from a nearby farm to the Old Illmo section of the city.

Pendergrass was involved in a years-long effort to repair the building and open it back up for use by children.

"It was just tragic that we were never able to use it in the way we wanted," she said.

Pendergrass said it's hard to put a dollar amount on an old building, but estimated several thousand dollars worth of work, materials and equipment were lost in the fire. She said many of the antiques inside were irreplaceable.

The remains of the building have been demolished, and the foundation is all that remains on the property. Pendergrass said a flowerbed may be planted in the foundation as a memorial to the Head School, but there are no plans to rebuild.

She said her first reaction to news of the arrests was relief, followed by anger.

"My next reaction was, you know, these are kids," Pendergrass said. "And I hate to think that they will be sent to prison. I'm not sure that is the best thing for them."

bschraum@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 210

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