Carlton woman pleads guilty to negligent fireLois Smith of Carlton pleaded guilty in Carlton County Court on Wednesday to one felony count of negligently starting a grease fire that destroyed a large apartment building in Carlton and left 13 people homeless, including Smith.
Lois Smith of Carlton pleaded guilty in Carlton County Court on Wednesday to one felony count of negligently starting a grease fire that destroyed a large apartment building in Carlton and left 13 people homeless, including Smith.
But because Smith, 49, has no prior criminal history and did not appear to have intentionally started the Dec. 13 fire, it’s uncertain if she will serve any additional jail time, said Carlton County Attorney Thomas Pertler.
Smith will be sentenced at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 14 in Carlton County Court. Tenants of the destroyed apartment will be able to make statements at that time.
Carlton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Steve White said the Dec. 13 fire was the third time firefighters had been called to Smith’s apartment in about a year for similar reasons. No charges had been filed after those incidents.
The fire caused nearly $500,000 in damages to the apartment, which was destroyed, and personal property lost to the flames. The fire spread so quickly that tenants escaped with only what they were wearing. Only one couple had renter’s insurance.
That figure does not include damages to the adjacent Third Base Bar, which was heavily damaged. It was one of the most destructive fires in Carlton, though no one was injured.
According to the criminal complaint, Smith and a friend had been drinking at the Third Base Bar until early in the morning. The two returned to Smith’s apartment and began cooking some sliced potatoes in a pan of oil. The two began arguing and Smith’s friend left the apartment. Smith soon fell asleep in the kitchen and the grease caught fire.
Pertler had considered charging Smith’s friend in connection with the fire but decided against it because, he said, the woman left Smith’s apartment while Smith was still awake and near the stove.
By Janna Goerdt, Duluth News Tribune
(The Duluth News Tribune and the Pine Journal are both publications of Forum Communications.)