Miami University Police Department (MUPD) has arrested and charged sophomore Volodymyr Kovalenko with making false alarms, criminal damaging and endangering following the series of strange events that occurred at Havighurst Hall last Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, according to Detective Jim Bechtolt.
According to Lieutenant Ben Spilman of MUPD, there were two fire alarms pulled Tuesday night.
“There were two fire alarms that were reported in the building,” Spilman said. “Officers responded. They determined that there was no fire; [there was] no threat.”
The fire alarms sounded at 10:25 p.m. and 10:48 p.m., respectively, and were determined to be false, according to the MUPD police reports.
MUPD Chief John McCandless said a third fire alarm was activated by a resident assistant (RA) who saw a burning bush outside the building. This alarm went off at 12:37 a.m. Wednesday, and was determined to be criminal mischief, according to the MUPD police report.
Upon the arrival of MUPD officers, the fire had been extinguished by a resident of Havighurst, according to the police report.
A fourth fire alarm was triggered at 2:43 a.m. Wednesday. The sprinkler system on the second floor was activated, causing water damage in nine dorm rooms on the second floor and one on the first floor, according to the police report.
“When our officers responded, they found that a trashcan was on fire on the second floor,” Spilman said.
The police report determined the cause of the fire to be arson and reported that students living in the damaged rooms were taken to safe rooms for the remainder of the night. The Office of Residence Life has placed them in temporary housing.
According to Bechtolt, Kovalenko was arrested Friday.
“There was an arrest in specifically report number 539 [the first pulled fire alarm]…and 541, which was the burning bush,” Bechtolt said. “In connection with report number 539, he was charged with making false alarms and in connection with report number 541, he was charged with criminal damaging or endangering.”
According to the police report, during a police interview Wednesday, April 24, Kovalenko initially denied any connection to the fire alarms, but then admitted to pulling the first alarm because he thought he smelled something in the hallway. He did not tell anyone he pulled the alarm or why during the night of the incidents.
Kovalenko also admitted that he smoked outside later in the night and threw his cigarette into the weeds outside Havighurst. He said he saw a small fire start, panicked and fled into the building, according to the police report. He turned himself in Friday.
Bechtolt said the other two incidents, the second pulled alarm and the burning trashcan, are still under investigation.
First-year Havighurst resident Warren Barker said after the second fire alarm, the residence hall staff talked with students about the consequences of falsely pulling a fire alarm. Barker said students were irritated by the alarms.
“No one was happy or applauding the person who was doing this,” Barker said.
He also said he was trying to go to bed when the third alarm sounded.
“I don’t know how long I had been asleep, but the alarm went off again and I had to wake my roommate up and get him out of there,” Barker said. “Everyone went outside, tired and angry this time. We smelled smoke, or at least I did. [They] found out a bush had been on fire…it turned out someone had maliciously set it on fire and that took a while to take care of.”
Barker said he was only able to get about another half hour of sleep before the fourth alarm went off in response to someone setting a second floor trashcan on fire.
“We couldn’t believe it that time, four times in a row,” Barker said. “Everyone was really mad this time. People were trying to sleep on the ground…This time we found out someone had set a trashcan on fire and set off the sprinklers and [the residence hall staff] tried to keep us out there until someone confessed. We went back inside about 4:30 in the morning. I took a half hour nap and went to PT [physical training for ROTC] at 5:00 [a.m.]. In a way it was almost, I don’t want to say humorous, but I was just kind of incredulous.”
Barker said rumors had circulated among students about who might have been the culprit in one or all of the incidents.
First-year Havighurst resident Chris Vanderhorst said the residence hall staff responded to the last two fire alarm activations by warning the students about arson and speaking with them about the ethics of safety. He said they tried to convince anyone who had any information to come forward and share, but no information was recorded that night.
“I know that for me and a lot of my friends in the dorm, we were really upset that we had someone in the dorm who was willing to put lives in danger,” Vanderhorst said.