A jury trial has been scheduled for a Dietrich man charged with third-degree arson, a felony, for allegedly starting a fire at Lions Park in Hailey on July 4, 2018.
The determination was made at a hearing in 5th District Court in Hailey on Monday.
Sean M. Newman, 42, allegedly ignited some cottonwood seed “fluff” on the ground near the Bow Bridge while Fourth of July events were taking place in the park. The fire continued to burn about three-fourths of an acre at the park adjacent to the Draper Wood River Preserve, on the west side of the city.
Newman initially denied he ignited the cottonwood fluff. According to a probable-cause affidavit written by Blaine County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Joshua Pritchard, Newman told police that he saw a 12- to 14-year-old boy drop something that caused the cotton to ignite, and that he was helping to put the fire out when people began pointing at him and saying he started the fire. Newman later admitted to police that he started the fire with a lighter, saying it was a “spontaneous thought as he walked down the trail,” according to the affidavit. Newman told officers that he knew the cottonwood fluff would light quickly, but that he did not think it would rapidly advance as it did.
Witnesses reported that Newman started the fire.
State code defines third-degree arson as “any person who willfully and unlawfully, by fire or explosion, damages any real or personal property of another; or any forest land.”
According to Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback, a plea agreement was sent to Newman’s defense attorney, Douglas Nelson, but Nelson had not had a chance to review the proposed plea agreement prior to the hearing on Monday. At this time, Newman is scheduled for a jury trial on Jan. 29.
If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.