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River Falls man charged with arson

A River Falls man was charged last week in Pierce County Circuit Court with arson, a Class C felony bringing a maximum penalty of $100,000 and/or 40 years prison.

Mark A. Nicholson, 33, was charged with intentionally damaging a house he owns, but subject to a mortgage held by Country Wide Bank in Dallas, Tex. His first court appearance on the charge is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 25.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department had issued a press release stating they were notified of a house fire at W7250 870th Ave. in the Town of Martell shortly after midnight on June 4. The release said Nicholson was uninjured and was able to notify 911 dispatchers for help.

The criminal complaint states, later that morning, county investigators were interviewing Nicholson at the home and he gave them an account of his day.

Nicholson had gone back-and-forth from his house, with the most recent return home about 11:30 p.m. Upon that arrival, he indicated he could hear something, which he thought were the smoke detectors going off. When he got toward the house, he could see inside it and noticed it was hazy and believed to be smoky. He then walked around to the front of the house, opened it up and noticed a glow back by the dishwasher area. At that point, he left the house and called 911.

Upon further questioning, investigators had a hard time believing Nicholson's story, based on the evidence presented. For example, Nicholson stated that, when he went through the front door, he walked upstairs to see what was going on. Ellsworth firefighters told investigators that, when they opened the front door, the smoke was almost down to the floor and one couldn't even see in the residence.

The complaint also states Nicholson's story had changed again, in that he played video games all afternoon the previous day. Investigators were unable to find the controller he claimed to be playing, but found ammunition on the floor for a .22 caliber rifle and 12 gauge slugs, but no guns.

Three days later, sheriff's investigators, along with members from the Division of Criminal Investigation, went to Nicholson's parents' house in Ellsworth, where he wanted to apologize for lying.

He first stated he owes a mortgage on the house "and that money is tight right now."

He continued that, about 9:45 p.m. the previous night, Nicholson indicated he was home, downstairs, putting clothes in the dryer. He changed clothes, grabbed a gas can, poured it around the house and ignited it. Overall, he believes he poured about four gallons in the house, starting in the basement and working his way upstairs. When asked how many places he started the fire, he responded he lit it in several different spots. He left the house, going out a patio door after lighting a fire in the basement.

Nicholson figured he expected to get a call, saying his house was on fire, but when he didn't, he was "curious" about what was going on at the house, which is why he returned. When he saw the house wasn't on the ground, he said he "kind of lost it."

"How am I gonna get this going?" Nicholson told his interviewers, who added all he was concerned about was burning the house down.

He stated he then went in the shed, got some matches, walked up and tried to light the fire again by the front door by lighting the rug and the dart box just inside the door. In addition, he kept lighting matches trying to ignite the gasoline that was in the loft. When that wouldn't light, he got to thinking about it, and that is when he went outside and called 911. He stated he had removed the game controller along with the guns.

He told his interviewers the reason he did this is he wanted to start fresh and he didn't want any bills. He also indicated he is alcohol and cocaine dependent, and is suicidal. He did state he wasn't on alcohol or drugs when he set the house on fire.

Jason Schulte

Jason Schulte is a reporter for the New Richmond News since February 2015. Prior to that he spent eight years at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth. His duties with the News will include covering news out of Hammond and Roberts along with action from St. Croix County court system. He lives in Roberts. 

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