A former plant worker has pleaded guilty to setting a fire at a magnesium recycling company that caused some $12 million in damage.
In return for Darrin K. Dettra’s guilty plea to arson resulting in bodily injury, Madison County prosecutors agreed to seek a 30-year prison sentence. The 41-year-old Chesterfield man could have faced a maximum penalty of 50 years in prison if he had been convicted at trial.
Dettra pleaded guilty shortly after his trial began in the January 2005 fire at Advanced Magnesium Alloys Corp., also known as AMACOR. Detrra has been jailed since five months after the fire.
“I think it was difficult,” Dettra’s attorney, Zaki Ali, said of the guilty plea. “He realized the state had a pretty strong case against him. He realized that if he was found guilty at trial he was looking at substantially more time. That’s why he accepted the plea agreement.
“Even though they didn’t have the physical case against him, all the evidence was destroyed in the fire, all the circumstantial evidence pointed to him,” Ali said.
Dettra also had two previous arson convictions in Pennsylvania.
Court records say AMACOR officials were in the process of firing Dettra from his job as a custodian about the time of the fire and that he told investigators he was the last person inside the warehouse where the fire started before the blaze erupted. He previously denied setting the fire in which a firefighter was hurt.
Deputy Prosecutor Steve Koester theorized that Dettra set the fire with the intention of extinguishing it so company officials would view him as a hero. Dettra allegedly asked Chesterfield firefighters how to put out such a fire before the blaze.
The AMACOR plant fire caused an estimated $12 million in damage and forced some 8,000 nearby residents from their homes as it took three days for the fire to burn itself out. AMACOR’s insurance company settled a class action lawsuit brought by property owners for about $1 million.
The company, which employed 60 people before the fire, currently has 40 workers.
“It’s three years later, and we’re still not completely back. It’s been a long road back,” said Jan Guy, AMACOR’s CEO.
Dettra’s sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 17.
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