By Jordan Achs
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — After an extensive Laramie Police Department investigation, Laramie resident Samuel Pennington was arrested Thursday for seven counts of third-degree arson and three counts of burglary.
The 22-year-old man remains in custody at the Albany County Detention Center, with a bond not yet set, according to an LPD news release.
Pennington allegedly started seven fires between Sept. 4 and Jan. 14. LPD Detective Sergeant Taun Smith said in his affidavit the first fire — a Sept. 4 dumpster fire at The Verge Apartments, located at 3534 Willett Drive — was reported by Pennington himself.
“Pennington claimed he had gone outside of his apartment to smoke a cigarette and noticed the fire,” the affidavit said. “It should be noted that the view of the dumpster from Building 4 is blocked by Building 6.”
Pennington’s apartment, which is in Building 4, was located just less than 400 feet from the dumpster.
Three other fires allegedly started by Pennington — vehicle fires on Oct. 18 and Jan. 8 and a trash compacter fire Jan. 14 — were also located at The Verge near his apartment. The trash compacter and both vehicles had extensive fire damage; the affidavit said one vehicle had been “fully engulfed in flames” and the other vehicle fire “shattered out all of the windows, causing extensive damage.”
After the Jan. 8 vehicle fire, the affidavit said a witness reported seeing a subject run away from the area where the vehicle was on fire. The affidavit said in the security camera footage, a subject is seen appearing to break the vehicle’s windows, starting the fire and running back behind Building 6 to an access point to Building 4.
Another witness saw someone with a backpack walking east on McCollum Street, away from a Dec. 14 vehicle fire located at 3125 Grand Ave., the affidavit said.
“The witness also stated that the subject he observed kept looking backwards, toward the west, while he was walking east,” the affidavit said. “This made the witness look to the west, and this is when he observed the vehicle on fire.”
One of the big pieces of evidence that helped LPD connect the fires was Pennington’s shoes. The affidavit said footprints with a “waffle-style pattern” sole and similar gait were found at the scene of the vehicle fire on Dec. 14, the trash compacter fire Jan. 14 and a dumpster fire located at 3314 Joanna Brunner Street — just 687 feet from Pennington’s apartment — that LPD also investigated Jan. 14.
The next day, Pennington was called to the Wyoming Department of Corrections Probation and Parole Office, where the affidavit said Smith had placed “large pieces of butcher paper on the floor.” After Pennington stepped on it, the affidavit said the paper was processed using a black, magnetic fingerprint powder. The powder revealed a sole pattern on the paper consistent with the ones found around the fires, the affidavit explained.
While executing a search warrant at Pennington’s apartment on Thursday, the affidavit said LPD found two pairs of Vans shoes with soles, tread and wear patterns “consistent with the footwear impressions found at the fire scenes.” Additionally, LPD found several other items, including a backpack with a “noticeable gasoline smell,” a AAA emergency car kit with the waterproof matches missing and a Bic lighter. The affidavit added LPD found no trace of “cigarettes, cigars, pipes or other products” that would need a lighter.
While LPD was searching the apartment, the affidavit said Smith interviewed Pennington.
“Your affiant was stating that it was good that only abandoned vehicles and dumpsters had been burned and that no one had been hurt,” Smith’s affidavit said. “Pennington replied, ‘I never wanted to hurt anyone.’”
Pennington’s three charges for burglary are for allegedly breaking windows to get into the vehicles to commit the arson. The vehicle owners from the Oct. 18, Dec. 14 and Jan. 8 fires all told LPD their cars were locked and windows were intact prior to the incidents, the affidavit said.
Third-degree arson involves a person intentionally or recklessly starting a fire or causing an explosion and intentionally or recklessly causing damage to any property valued at $200 or more, the LPD news release said.
Third-degree arson is a felony, which is punishable by a maximum of 5-years imprisonment.