Princeton man charged with arson

Princeton firefighters, later joined by the Baldwin Fire Department, extinguished a fire in this home owned by Michael Robert Johnson at 2925 75th Ave., just a few miles northeast of Princeton city limits on Friday, March 1. Arson charges have been filed against the homeowner.

Princeton firefighters, later joined by the Baldwin Fire Department, extinguished a fire in this home owned by Michael Robert Johnson at 2925 75th Ave., just a few miles northeast of Princeton city limits on Friday, March 1. Arson charges have been filed against the homeowner.

Michael Robert Johnson stood on his driveway for about four hours in the early morning hours of March 1.

He went outside at about 4 a.m. that morning. By 8 a.m. or so, a neighbor saw Johnson standing between his vehicle and the two-story blue house with the unattached garage that he called home at 2925 75th Avenue, just northeast of Princeton, less than a mile north of Highway 95 on Mille Lacs County Road 1.

Johnson had packed a small cloth bag as if he had planned on going somewhere.

And as a matter of fact, Johnson may have been planning a trip away from home. The neighbor told police that Johnson packed his bags because he was ready to be arrested.

By 8:11 a.m. on March 1, the Princeton Fire Department was at the Johnson residence. The house was on fire. Smoke was coming from the rear of the house.

A criminal complaint filed in Mille Lacs County District Court states that when Princeton Fire Chief Jim Roxbury asked Johnson if he wanted to sit in a fire truck to warm up, Johnson declined. Instead, he told Roxbury that he should sit in a police car because he started the fire. Minutes earlier, Johnson also told a Princeton police officer, who was first to arrive on scene, that he had set fire to the home.

Five days later, on March 6, Michael Johnson was charged with felony first degree arson for setting fire to his home.

Johnson was placed on a 72-hour mental commitment on the morning of March 1.. He should have been “He was scheduled to be released March 4.

By the time criminal charges were filed against Johnson on March 6, he couldn’t be located. A warrant for his arrest was issued on March 6, but as of Tuesday, April 16, Johnson has not been located.

Mille Lacs County Deputy Terry Boltjes questioned Johnson at the scene. That dialog appears in the complaint filed against Johnson.

Johnson appeared to be frustrated by the fact that the utilities at his home were all gradually going out. He had been heating his house with an electric heater since early December 2012, when his furnace went out, the complaint states. The heater in the home allegedly went out on Feb. 28, the day before he set fire to the house. Johnson told investigators that the house was going to be foreclosed on March 15 and allegedly said that’s why he set the house on fire.

Johnson told Boltjes that he didn’t want to end up on the street like some do, the complaint states. It further states that years ago, some relatives told him that if he had nothing to do, he should burn the place down.

Johnson told Boltjes that he had set the fire in the garage at about 4 a.m. on March 1.

Johnson allegedly poured drain oil and fuel oil in the garage and poured gas in the house. He had to light the fire three times, trying to get it to burn, the complaint states. He made two torches out of wooden sticks. He wrapped them in cotton and dipped them in drain oil but they wouldn’t ignite and burn, the complaint states.

It appears that when the fire did start, it was inside the house at the top of the basement stairs. The fire appeared contained to that area.

A metal gas can was found at the bottom of the basement stairs, the complaint states. A plastic can with a nozzle removed was found on the living room floor, the complaint states.

The state fire marshal arrived on scene and collected numerous items from the residence. Those items were sent to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) for testing.

If located and convicted of the first degree arson charge, Johnson faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine.

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