Saturday, May 29, 2004

Police reconsidering fatal OSU fire

Columbus cold-case detective questions arson ruling

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - A homicide detective is asking whether a dropped cigarette, rather than an arsonist, may have caused the fire that killed five college students near the Ohio State University campus, according to an internal memo obtained by the Columbus Dispatch.

The April 13, 2003, fire has been assigned to the Columbus police cold-case squad, and authorities said investigators are starting from the beginning.

Three Ohio University and two Ohio State students died in the three-story brick house after a 21st birthday party for one of the victims, who lived there. Among the victims were Kyle Raulin of West Chester and Andrea Dennis of Madeira.

City Fire Capt. Steve Saltsman is standing by the ruling of arson by three fire investigators, the newspaper reported Friday. Federal and private fire experts agreed with the assessment, he said. He wouldn't comment on evidence and told the newspaper he hadn't seen the police memo.

Detective Richard Bisutti wrote the five-page memo last month for his superiors after reading the investigative file.

"Is the arson investigator satisfied that due to all of the alcohol consumption and intoxicated people that were at this party, that one of the partygoers did not leave a cigarette burning on the couch?" he said.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien last August dropped the only charges filed in the case, saying there was not enough evidence. Robert Lucky Patterson had been charged with five counts of aggravated murder. A message seeking comment was left Friday with O'Brien's office.

Bisutti's memo recounts Patterson's questioning by homicide Detective Mike McCann. Patterson told McCann he was in the neighborhood that night and had matches with him.

"Patterson broke down and admitted that on the night of the homicides he had consumed a lot of drugs and alcohol," Bisutti wrote. "He claimed that he has recurring blackouts."

Patterson, who is staying at his father's home in Columbus, told the Dispatch he was innocent.

"It was a long while ago," Patterson said. "But I'd remember doing something like that."

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