House fire could have resulted in homicides

Published 5:13 pm Monday, December 17, 2007

By By NORMA LERNER / Niles Daily News
CASSOPOLIS – A house fire set by three arsonists could have resulted in a homicide or two.
Two of the three went to prison for their fire spree in June, and the third co-defendant is scheduled to be sentenced in January.
Friday morning in Cass County Circuit Court, Cory Schutter, 18, of Oak Ridge Street in St. Joseph, and Donald Ottinger, 19, of M-152, Dowagiac, each received three to 20 years prison for arson to a dwelling and a concurrent two to 10 years for burning of real property, a barn.
According to Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jason Ronning, if a neighbor had not of heard a noise and laid on the horn of his vehicle to alert the house occupants that their house was on fire and called 9-1-1, people could have died.
There was no apparent motive for the fires, Ronning said, other than the trio wanted an adrenaline rush.
It was early morning of June 21-22, when the trio went to the home of Larry and Deborah Tumbleson of 27901 Beeson St., poured gasoline on their house, set it on fire and left.
The Tumblesons were asleep in their bed, according to Cass County Circuit Judge Michael Dodge.
The men went speeding by another neighbor who threw a pipe at their station wagon car, which crashed at the corner of Beeson Street and Cherry Grove Road.
Before the crash, the trio poured gasoline on a barn belonging to Rose Trojan. Dodge said Schutter spread the gas and Joseph Brossard set fire to it. After the car crashed, the men abandoned the vehicle and Schutter later called the police and said the car was stolen.
Deborah Tumbleson addressed the court while shaking and in tears and said the boys thought the house was abandoned, but found it hard to believe since there were two vehicles in the driveway and the porch light was on. One of the cars was burned.
"It totally changed our lives. We do not feel safe. We have to have protection at night. We have to keep everything locked up," she said.
Defense attorney Roosevelt Thomas said Schutter has had some psychological problems ever since his mother died and there were problems with his father. He asked for him to receive rehabilitation under the Holmes Youthful Training program.
Schutter apologized to Mrs. Tumbleson by saying he was "so, so sorry." It was a "stupid decision on my part. I wish I could take it back. I ask for forgiveness."
Dodge said the Holmes training program is "out of the question because of the serious nature of the felony offenses. You knew it was wrong. It could have been murder," he warned.
Schutter's costs amounted to $630 plus his share of restitution of $16,448.40.
In co-defendant Donald Ottinger's sentencing, Ronning said he heard two different stories about who poured the gas and who was the lookout person.
Defense attorney James Miller said Ottinger did a lesser part than the other two and was "truly remorseful." Ottinger said he was sorry.
Dodge said Ottinger acted as a lookout but each one "pointed the finger at the other."
The judge said, "You were equally responsible. You didn't do anything to stop it and jeopardized the lives of the people affected and the police."
Ottinger's costs were $980 plus restitution of $16,448.30.