Teen Charged with Aggravated Arson After His Family’s House Fire on Stratford, Prospect Heights

VIDEO of house fire minutes after firefighters arrived at a nearly fully-engulfed house fire on Stratford Road in Prospect Heights just after 3:30 a.m. Monday morning.

Following a fierce house fire that was reported at 3:30 a.m. this morning, a 14-year-old Prospect Heights boy and John Hersey High School student has been charged with multiple counts of aggravated arson in connection with fire in his family’s home.

The boy’s father cut his hand on glass while escaping the fire, his mother was transported to Northwest Community Hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation, and two or three police officers suffered smoke inhalation trying to rescue the 14-year-old male. His family believed he was still in the house.

Prospect Heights police officer Mark Pufundt was first on the scene, and found the teen’s parents and three children standing in the yard as the one-story home burned. The children were crying and the mother was screaming that the 14-year-old teen was still inside while large flames were visible from the rear of the house. The fire then moved to the front of the house — blowing out of the window openings of the front wall.

Prospect Heights Police Officer Mark Pufundt rushed to the rear of the house and broke the teen’s bedroom window with his nightstick and climbed into the room. The police officer found the room filled with smoke, so he did an “arm sweep” around the room to check for the teen, but did not find the him. Pufundt was transported to Northwest Community Hospital when he came out of the house, and was released today.

Police searched for the teen in neighborhoods using investigative techniques, while firefighters meticulously searched the inside of the house; but it was a suspicious person call from an apartment building maintenance man that helped track the teen. Arlington Heights police located the 14-year-old by 8:40 a.m. in an apartment building in the 500 block of West Euclid Avenue in Arlington Heights. The teen was uninjured, and taken in for questioning.

Prospect Heights police reported there is no record of police being called to the home on Stratford Road, and did not reveal any circumstances about a motive, whether the crime was premeditated, or whether the teen was trying to harm someone. Aggravated arson is the crime of arson when setting a fire creates a substantial risk to people other than the arsonist – whether they are harmed or not. Aggravated arson is also charged when someone is hurt, such as a police officer or firefighter, when a fire was set without known risk of harming people already inside a building, such as a vacant building.

Prospect Heights fire investigators and Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal were on the scene early Monday. Fire investigators determined the fire began in the basement. The fire behavior may have raised suspicions to bystanders, because it appeared to be fast moving. A slow-moving non-intentional fire may have had more time to spread deadly smoke if there were no smoke detectors activated

Firefighters have not yet said if there were working smoke detectors in the house.


Cardinal Note: As of June 5, 2013 — up to and including the date of this article — police incidents related to the above police agency are not reported in real time or within a prompt time period. Police protecting their realm of investigation and police activity, have chosen to use secret military-grade encrypted radios to withhold their police communications, which were previously open to the public and news media via monitoring of public safety scanning radios — with no known negative results locally.

The delayed knowledge or entirely blacked out knowledge resulting from encrypted police communications may protect certain police operations and investigations, but it also puts the public at risk in situations such as when armed and dangerous offenders are at large and when other similar situations occur, such as when desperate offenders of property crimes are eluding police. In other cases, the delayed or blacked out information inhibits or prohibits the possibility of the public providing early witness accounts before a criminal trail goes cold. Citizens are much more likely to recognize or recall suspicious or criminal activity if they are aware of the criminal incident within minutes or hours of its occurrence. The most serious incident involving dire results would be a trail that is allowed to go cold in the case of child abduction.

The lack of real time information from public police dispatch also weakens an effective neighborhood watch program mostly working to prevent property loss, but also working to prevent possible violent crimes.

Lack of real time information from police dispatch also delays public awareness or eliminates public awareness of general hazards and traffic or other situations in every day living in an otherwise economically thriving community.

Police have alternate ways to transmit tactical, operational or investigative information, while still keeping their main public dispatch channels open for the best balance of public safety and police safety.

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