Two teens charged with aggravated arson for weekend fire

Two teens charged with aggravated arson for weekend fire

URBANA — Two teenage boys are due back in court next week after being charged in juvenile court Wednesday with aggravated arson in connection with a weekend fire at a Campustown apartment building that caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

Residents and commercial tenants of the Bankier Apartments property at 509 E. Green St., C, had to find other accommodations after the electric meter bank for the building was destroyed late Saturday night by a fire started in a two-wheeled recycling tote.

The vandalism was captured on surveillance video, leading to the arrests of the boys early Tuesday.

Champaign firefighters said a resident saw the flames just before midnight Saturday and called 911. Firefighters quickly doused the fire with dry chemical extinguishers but not before the damage to the meters had been done.

Bankier property manager Margie Colter said it was only Wednesday afternoon when temporary electrical service was restored to the building, which had been renovated two years ago.

"Everything in there is new," she said.

The loss of power meant that three businesses and 13 tenants from nine one- and two-bedroom apartments can't use the building.

"It wasn't just a trash fire," Colter said. "All the meters are gone. The main (electrical) line to the building burned to the ground. Wiring was burned."

Although most of the fire was on the outside of the rear of the building, firefighters had to put a hole in a ground-floor wall to make sure there was no fire inside. That apartment sustained smoke damage as well.

Colter said besides the repairs — which will likely result in increased insurance premiums — the company had to put the tenants up in hotels, then relocate them to other apartments, and can't charge them rent while they are displaced.

The businesses are also suffering from being closed three days, she said.

She said the electrical company doing the work is hopeful repairs can be done by the end of next week but it could stretch into July, she said.

Champaign police identified a 14-year-old Champaign boy and a 15-year-old Urbana boy as the alleged fire starters.

Judge Tom Difanis ordered that both be held in the Juvenile Detention Center pending hearings on Monday and Tuesday. Each of the teens have had previous juvenile court contacts and one was wanted on a warrant for failure to appear for sentencing on an aggravated battery in Difanis' courtroom late last month.

The boys were also charged with aggravated battery for a separate incident that occurred a little more than two hours after the alleged arson.

Champaign police Lt. Nate Rath said about 2:20 a.m. Sunday, the pair allegedly threw a cup of Sprite on a 47-year-old man and spat on him at the Illinois Terminal, 45 E. University Ave., C. That alleged attack was also recorded on video.

They were arrested between 12 and 1 a.m. on Tuesday by University of Illinois police, Rath said.

If convicted of aggravated arson, a Class X felony, they face six to 30 years behind bars but as juveniles, cannot be imprisoned past their 21st birthday.

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