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January 22, 2014

Teens eyed as suspects in arson case

By Jessica Reynolds Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Three youths from the Oneonta area are suspects in the Jan. 18 arson at the Doc Knapp Field, the Oneonta Police Department said Tuesday.

Lt. Douglas Brenner said the suspects, all under the age of 16, are not being held at this time, but the investigation is continuing. Brenner said police are still conducting interviews and examining evidence.

Brenner said, by law, the police department cannot reveal the suspects’ names because of their ages.

“I wish we could,” Brenner said. He said he could not disclose the genders of the vandals either.

Later Tuesday, Nayor told the Oneonta Common Council that two of the youths were 14 years old, and the other was 13. He added that the three teens hadn’t committed any previous crimes.

According to Brenner, the three suspects were identified when officers were following up on tips from the community after the third-base dugout was set on fire and graffiti was spray-painted on Riverside Elementary School and Swart-Wilcox House. Brenner said tips led police to contact the suspects’ parents, who were cooperative in the identification of their children as suspects.

Because of the suspects’ ages, Brenner said, court action will likely proceed as a civil action case and will probably be handled in Otsego County Family Court. The suspects have not yet been charged.

Brenner said he spoke with at least one of the suspects, who admitted his involvement in the incident.

The three vandals caused an estimated $10,000 in damages to the Little League dugout.

Brenner previously said the vandals could face charges of third-degree arson, a class C felony that carries a maximum sentence of three to 15 years in prison, second-degree criminal mischief, a felony, and making graffiti, a misdemeanor. However, he said, it is unknown what the charges will end up being since the vandals were found to be under 16. Brenner said Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl will be consulted to determine what kind of charges the juveniles will face.

According to its website, juvenile justice in Otsego County is handled by the Department of Social Services.

Steven Ratner, Otsego County social services attorney, said Tuesday that he had just found out about the incident earlier in the day and has not yet received any referrals regarding prosecution of the juvenile vandals.

Oneonta Little League President Bill Erario said he was always confident in the police’s ability to catch the vandals.

“The Oneonta Police Department does a fantastic job,” he said. “I knew they would find out who did it quickly.”

Erario said the next step for the Little League will be to tear down the dugout. It will be rebuilt once it gets warmer outside, he said.

After talking to his insurance company, Erario said, he found out there is a “little bit” of coverage for the dugout. He also said he has had several generous offers from local businesses. Home Depot offered to donate paint and materials to rebuild the dugout, along with Munson’s and the Oneonta Block Company, he said.

“It really restores your faith,” Erario said, of the generous offers and the $10,500 raised by three Townsquare Media radio stations Monday. “I’m overwhelmed. It was good to hear everyone’s memories of Little League on the radio and what it means to them. It will continue to be a great part of the community.”