Shortly before he disappeared, the 16-year-old boy whose body was found in Latah Creek this month told investigators a fire that killed another youth last year had been set intentionally.
Adam Crane’s account of the events leading up to the shed fire gave Spokane Valley Fire District investigators a “person of interest” in the blaze, authorities said Monday.
Deputy Fire Marshal Eric Olson described that person only as a teenage boy who was at the shed the night of the blaze Jan. 29, 1996.
“Talking with Adam gave us another direction to look,” said Olson, who had questioned Crane four times about the fire. “We thought the investigation was closed.”
After talking with Crane, Olson said, “we had some things to go on.”
Investigators originally ruled the fire accidental, blaming a short in an extension cord used to provide power inside the backyard shed at 502 S. Custer.
Jeffrey Himes, 11, died in the fire. His friend, Brent Connely, then 15, survived severe burns to his face, head, hands and back.
Now, investigators believe at least four youths, including Crane, visited Connely that night in the shed, which Connely used as a bedroom. Crane told Olson that one of those teenagers had set the fatal fire.
“Adam was a very troubled young man, and we had to follow up on everything he was telling us,” Olson said. “We weren’t always able to do that.”
A 15-year-old girl, who also was at the shed, confirmed enough of Crane’s story to reopen the investigation. Olson was in the process of gathering enough evidence to seek an arrest warrant, which was still a few months away, he said.
Charges could have ranged from arson to homicide.
“We had a possibility of getting to the bottom of this while Adam was here, but now that Adam is no longer here, that’s unlikely,” Olson said.
Crane, a student at Ferris High School, walked away from the school on Feb. 3 and was not heard from again. People inner-tubing down Latah Creek on July 5 found his near-skeletal remains in the water.
The cause of Crane’s death remains undetermined, sheriff’s Lt. John Simmons said Monday. An autopsy performed last week did not find any obvious trauma to Crane’s body, Simmons said.
Detectives are trying to determine whom Crane talked to before he died and what he was doing near the creek.
“We have more questions than we have answers,” Simmons said. He called Crane’s cooperation in the arson investigation shortly before his disappearance “one of many pieces to this unsolved puzzle.”
Pieces to the fire puzzle began falling into place last November when Olson interviewed Crane about the shed fire. A previous conversation with Connely, during which he had given details inconsistent with an accidental fire, led Olson to Crane.
“Adam Crane was a friend of everyone there,” Olson said. “Adam had made contact with Brent that the fire possibly wasn’t an accident.”
Investigators refused to discuss specifics about the fire’s cause, saying only that the fire may have been set without the intent of harming anyone or burning the shed down.
The lack of physical evidence, which was destroyed when the shed was demolished, makes the theory difficult to prove without witness accounts, Olson said. The girl, who corroborated portions of Crane’s story, is not as knowledgeable about the fire, he said.
“It all boiled down to Adam’s credibility and whether we could establish it,” Olson said.
, DataTimes MEMO: Anyone with information about the fatal fire is asked to call the Valley Fire Department at 928-2462. People with information about Adam Crane’s death should call Crime Check at 456-2233.