The fire that destroyed most of the Bemrich Electric & Telephone Inc. building last week was set on purpose, investigators determined, and now two people have been charged.
Tanner J. King, 22, and Gregory P. White, 23, are accused of setting the fire at the business, located at 110 S. 21st St., while they allegedly were committing a burglary.
King was arrested around 8 a.m. Wednesday in the 900 block of South 25th Street, but White is still at large.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
The awning from the front of the building sits on the ground in front of the remains of Bemrich Electric and Telephone.
Both men have been charged with first-degree arson, second-degree burglary, first-degree criminal mischief, possession of a firearm as a felon and second-degree theft. All the charges are felonies.
Police Chief Tim Carmody said officers and Fort Dodge firefighters were called to Bemrich Electric & Telephone at 2:43 a.m. June 21 after receiving a report about a fire. The blaze was contained a little more than two hours later, at 4:50 a.m.
The investigation into the fire revealed it had been set on purpose during a burglary, according to Carmody.
Evidence at the scene led King and White to be charged in the case.
In addition to the fire, Carmody said investigators are looking at the pair's possible involvement in another crime that happened the same day.
Around 5:51 a.m., officers were called to the American Red Cross Training Center, 20 N. 16th St., to investigate a burglary. Carmody said the perpetrators took a vehicle and several items that were in the business.
The vehicle was recovered hours later near the 1800 block of First Ave. S.
As a result of the Red Cross burglary investigation, members of the Webster County/Fort Dodge Regional Special Emergency Response Team searched a property at 225 S. 20th St.
Officers found evidence that suggested the Red Cross burglary and fire at Bemrich Electric "may be tied together," Carmody said, adding "additional evidence collected throughout this investigation will be processed and may lead to additional charges."
Mayor Matt Bemrich, who works as an electrician at the company that bears his family's name, was thankful for the work done by law enforcement.
"We're very impressed and very humbled by all their hard work they put into the case," Bemrich said. "Now we hope that the folks that have committed the horrible crime against ourselves and our family definitely see their day in court. Hopefully they'll receive the punishment they deserve."
Besides the current investigation, King is also awaiting trial on an unrelated burglary case and is also accused of harassment and stalking. He is also suing Webster County after making his way onto the roof of the Webster County Law Enforcement Center on Sept. 4, 2012, and seriously injuring himself after landing in the alley. Law enforcement officials say King was trying to escape from the Webster County Jail, while King's lawsuit alleges the jail didn't do enough to protect him and that staff should have known about his "suicidal intent."
The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 18, 2014.
White was the victim of a shooting that happened on April 3, 2012. Nickolas Beck, 20, later pleaded guilty in federal court to illegal possession of a firearm and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
Police believe White is still in Fort Dodge or the surrounding area. Anyone with information on White, or about either of the June 21 incidents, is asked to call the Fort Dodge Police Department at 573-1426 or Webster County Crime Stoppers at 573-1444. Tips can also be sent online at wccrimestoppers.com or by texting "LEC" and the tip to 274637.