The “prime suspect” in the torching of the Lincoln County Courthouse is a 17-year-old boy arrested on unrelated charges while watching the landmark burn, authorities said Tuesday.
The Davenport boy is the only suspect “at this point,” Police Chief Phillips Robertson said.
Robertson and Lincoln County Sheriff Dan Berry declined to say what caused them to believe the boy, William Hill, set the fire that extensively damaged the century-old courthouse.
Nor would they say whether Hill behaved suspiciously while watching the Dec. 21 blaze.
Hill was arrested during the fire in connection with a Nov. 12 incident in which a young man was beaten, choked and tortured with darts.
Davenport Patrolman Mike Patrick spotted Hill in the crowd outside the burning courthouse. Patrick arrested him on a warrant that charged him with first-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault in the torture case.
Patrick also arrested Hill for consuming alcohol at the time of the fire and possession of stolen property.
“There may be additional charges pressed against him in relationship to possession of stolen property,” Robertson said.
Hill has been in the Spokane County Juvenile Detention Center since the night the courthouse burned.
Authorities Tuesday identified the arson suspect only as a 17-year-old boy arrested in the torture case but declined to name him.
Robertson said he fears for the suspect’s safety because public outrage about the fire is so great.
Berry and Robertson declined to say when they think charges may be filed in the arson case.
“There’s still a lot to do,” Berry said.
Authorities said witnesses must be interviewed and tests are planned to determine whether an “accelerant,” such as gasoline, was used to start the fire.
The fire apparently started in the second floor, near Juvenile Court and Superior Court offices, or in an attic overhead, Berry said.
County officials are still trying to determine whether the Georgian-style brick courthouse, built in 1897, can be repaired. Damages are estimated at $2.5 million, but replacement costs would be much higher.
If repairs are possible, County Commissioner Ted Hopkins said he’s optimistic the courthouse can be rebuilt for the insurance settlement the county expects.
Limited services have been restored by relocating burned-out county departments in scattered buildings in Davenport. Officials say most county records, which were stored in vaults, survived the fire.
Hill is one of five juveniles and two adults suspected of participating in the assault on Davenport resident John Brown Jr., 19.
Brown said he was assaulted for 3-1/2 hours after participants in a beer party concluded incorrectly that he was a narcotics informer.
Besides being beaten and choked, Brown had a knife thrown at his head and darts were tossed into his flesh.