Student arrested in Parker Hall fire

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 17, 2003

MURFREESBORO – Last Friday, Murfreesboro Fire Department responded within minutes after receiving an alarm at 11:08 p.m. for Parker Hall on Union Street, a male dormitory on the south end of Chowan College’s campus.

According to Murfreesboro Fire Chief, Billy Deans, the fire originated on the 4th floor in room 405.

&uot;When we arrived there, there was no one in the room and it was filled with smoke,&uot; said Deans. &uot;There were towels down behind the door that caught on fire from remnants of incense that was left burning inside the room in the student’s absence.&uot;

After the fire was extinguished, Deans noticed that the alarm in the room had been disabled. &uot;There are alarms inside each of the dorm rooms to provide early warnings for students to evacuate in the event there was a fire,&uot; he said. &uot;All of those smoke detectors are linked to a larger system that triggers a signal to the fire department. Had the alarm been connected, we would have received the alarm sooner and I doubt if the smoke would have had a chance to get to the smoke detectors in the hallway.&uot;

Chief of Campus Police, Brian Lassiter, was called to the scene at 11:52 p.m. to assist with the situation. Upon his investigation of the room, he discovered what he believed to be 113.5 grams of marijuana. The student, Donald Whitfield, 22 of Pennsylvania, was off campus at the time of the fire, but showed up shortly after the fire was placed under control, at which time Chief Lassiter placed him under arrest. Whitfield was charged with possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver marijuana, maintaining a dwelling for storage of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia and placed under $42,000 bond at the Hertford County Jail.

Deans stated that damage was confined to the room and would have been worse had the room been more ventilated.

&uot;Fortunately, the room was closed off which allowed the fire to deplete itself of oxygen. We were all very thankful there were no injuries,&uot; said Dean.

Deans expressed gratitude to all those who responded and assisted in the call. Murfreesboro Fire Department had 15 firefighters on the scene and responded with three engines, a ladder and equipment truck, while Winton Fire Department offered assistance with nine firefighters and contributed an engine and an air truck.

Stanley Mugeki, Director of Housing for Chowan College stated that although no formal decision had been announced, &uot;swift and decisive action&uot; would be taken with regard to the student.

&uot;We are all really thankful that no one was injured. Certainly, this could have been much worse,&uot; stated Lassiter.