Saturday, August 2, 2003

Man charged in arson at OSU

By Jordan Gentile
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

Robert Patterson is charged with arson and murder
COLUMBUS - A man who police said made his living stealing car stereos apparently picked a rooming house near Ohio State University at random to set the April 13 fire that killed five college students, including two from Greater Cincinnati, authorities said.

Robert Lucky Patterson, 20, was charged with five counts of aggravated murder, three counts of attempted aggravated murder and nine counts of aggravated arson.

Patterson set fire to a couch on the front porch of the rooming house, said Detective Mike McCann, the lead investigator in the case.

"He picked that house, as far as we can tell, at random," McCann said.

Authorities did not discuss a possible motive. "He'll have to answer that," McCann said.

The blaze killed two Ohio State students and three from Ohio University - including Andrea Kali Dennis, 20, of Madeira, and Kyle Raulin, 20, of West Chester Township. The victims had been among the 80 people who earlier had attended a 21st birthday party at the house for one of those killed.

Fire Capt. Steve Saltsman said more charges were likely.

Fourteen people were in the house when the fire started just after 4 a.m. Five died, six escaped uninjured, and firefighters rescued three others.

Three tips from the public linking Patterson to the scene led authorities to the suspect. He was arrested following a 3 1/2-hour interview with police Friday.

"He made statements that implicated himself in the fire," McCann said.

Police said they believe Patterson was involved in a fight or argument behind the house in the evening, and was spotted at the scene again around the time of the fire. He was not an Ohio State student but lived in the area. Police say Patterson supported himself by stealing radios from college students' cars and that he was stealing radios the night of the fire.

Although Patterson has the same last name as one of the students injured in the fire - Josh Patterson, an OSU student from West Chester - McCann said they were not related.

"There was no relationship with anyone in the house," he said. "He seemed to pick the house at random."

McCann said Patterson didn't confess. But, the detective said he "expressed remorse" and "was well aware of the tragedy" of the event.

Patterson has a minor arrest record and has lived in Columbus for several years but moved often, police said.

"He had no visible means of support other than stealing," McCann said.

Patterson made pizzas at Ohio State Pizza near campus for seven or eight months, but was fired before the blaze at the house, co-workers said.

They described Patterson as a heavy drinker who was easygoing but unhappy.

"He felt like his family didn't love him," Rich Alcott, 36, said while making pizzas Friday. "He was just a sad, sad person. He laughed all the time, but he didn't seem happy."

Patterson, who didn't have an attorney, was being held in the Franklin County jail Friday, said deputy Craig Brafford.

He was to be arraigned today, and prosecutors will ask that he be held without bond.

"We still consider him a danger to the community," said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien.

He said no decision had been made on whether to seek the death penalty if Patterson is convicted of aggravated murder.

University officials praised the police for their diligence.

"To a university dealing with such a horrific crime, to bring people to justice is just terrific news," said Bill Hall, OSU's vice president for student affairs.

"Our sympathy and prayers go out to the families."

Patterson has taken a polygraph test, but police would not discuss the results. By the time of Patterson's arrest, police say they had interviewed him several times and that he was their only suspect.

Police notified the public two weeks ago that they were looking for a "person of interest" who might know something about the crime and described him as a 5-foot-11, 200-pound white male with blond hair who wore a dark jacket.

OSU President Karen A. Holbrook said late Friday that those at the college are grateful for the hard work and dedication of the investigators.

"From the start, investigators were unrelenting in their commitment to solving this crime, and they engaged the entire community to assist them in their efforts," she said. "The arrest is an important first step in helping our community bring some closure to this tragedy. The hearts of everyone in the Ohio State family remain with the families and friends of the five students who died.

"May they take some comfort in the arrest and know that their children, brothers and sisters will be remembered for their contributions to the lives of everyone they touched."

Enquirer reporter Kristina Goetz and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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