A Whitman County plumber’s apprentice who told police that voices in his head told him to set fire to a Pullman apartment complex pleaded guilty Monday to a federal charge stemming from the July blaze.
Bryan Kitchen, 32, was arrested by the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office a week after a towering fire razed four nearly finished buildings in Pullman, intended for use Washington State University students. At the time, investigators estimated damages from the fire set in the early morning hours of July 14 totaled around $13 million, destroying 88 student apartments being built at 1560 N.E. Brandi Way.
Kitchen was employed by a subcontractor helping to build the complex.
Whitman County authorities initially booked Kitchen on a felony arson charge. A federal grand jury quickly indicted him on a charge of setting fire maliciously to a building used in interstate commerce, a charge that carries a potential prison sentence of between five and 20 years, as well as a fine of up to $250,000. In a plea deal, Kitchen pleaded guilty to the federal charge.
The agreement calls for Kitchen to spend a little more than four years behind bars with credit for time served. A federal judge may accept or reject the agreement at a sentencing hearing scheduled for April.
Representatives from Campus Crest, an East Coast-based company that operates the complex, known as The Grove, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Local media reports show the apartments opened on a limited basis in October.
Authorities questioned Kitchen multiple times about his involvement in the fire after an on-duty law enforcement officer noticed his red Saturn near the construction site shortly before the fire was reported. Kitchen initially denied involvement but failed a lie detector test, according to court documents. He then told police he set the fire accidentally, though investigators had ruled arson as the cause.
After lengthy questioning, Kitchen admitted to building a pile of wood and setting the kindling ablaze with a lighter, according to court documents. The heat from the fire melted siding on nearby complexes and threatened to ignite at least one other building before the flames were doused.
Kitchen was listed in custody of the Spokane County Jail on Tuesday.