Office of the State Fire Marshal Fire (OSFM) Investigator Kris Smyth was selected as the Investigator of the Year by the Kansas Chapter of the International Association of Arson Investigators.
On Oct. 18, 2020, a structure fire was reported at Davis Motors in Syracuse, Kan., which is in Hamilton County. Smyth was the lead investigator on this fire incident. Several investigators from OSFM, as well as the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were all involved in the initial stages of this investigation.
“I am proud of Kris,” Wally Roberts, OSFM Investigation Chief, said. “This was a complicated case, but he stuck with it and followed his instincts. He deserves this recognition.”
Davis Motors is the only auto dealership in this small, western Kansas town. Damages exceeded over $1 million, with loss of jobs and tax revenue to the city and county.
After several days of working the scene, the fire was determined to be incendiary, or an arson. The investigative team quickly learned of a person of interest in this case, who was a local firefighter.
The investigators found that the residence of this person had a fire two weeks prior to initial incident. That fire was determined to be accidental by the local volunteer fire chief. Smyth started looking into that incident, and the facts of the two cases were not adding up. The cause of that fire was determined by the fire chief to have started when a curling iron had accidently fallen to the floor, coming in contact with a towel, and causing the fire. Smyth located the curling iron, and utilizing the BATFE Fire Research Laboratory, he proved that it did not cause the fire. He was able to show that fire too was incendiary.
Several weeks after the Davis Motors fire, another house fire occurred that firefighter’s residence. Investigators from the OSFM responded and determined that it was incendiary, as well. The house was completely destroyed. The firefighter moved the next day to Texas.
As investigators continued to work that incident, they learned their suspect was possibly involved with a fire in Texas. During the Texas investigation, the suspect moved back to Syracuse, Kan. Upon his arrival back in Syracuse, he was arrested and charged with several counts of arson, and aggravated arson for the fire at Davis Motors and the two other house fires. The suspect took a plea deal by pleading guilty to the Davis Motors fire, and one of the residential arsons. As part of the deal, Texas authorities were asked to not charge him in Texas.
“This was a total team effort,” Smyth said. “Between the OSFM team, Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, ATF and Texas law enforcement, we were able to make the arrest and prove the case. It wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t all working together.”