Trinity High School principal charged in connection with school fire
Dickinson Trinity High School’s principal was taken into custody Tuesday in connection with a fire that broke out at the school Monday morning, rendering it unusable for the foreseeable future.
Thomas J. Sander, 30, could face felony charges of arson and endangerment by fire after he was called in for questioning Tuesday morning. He was later booked into Southwest Multi-County Correction Center in Dickinson following the establishment of probable cause for the charges, according to a release sent Tuesday afternoon by the Dickinson Police Department.
Both charges are Class B felonies. Dickinson police did not release more information on the case Tuesday night, adding the case is still under investigation.
A bond hearing for Sander is scheduled for “the near future” according to the release.
Dickinson Catholic Schools President Steve Glasser said in a text message that “Trinity High School will not be open the rest of the school year.”
Glasser said Tuesday night that Trinity plans to resume classes next Monday at Dickinson Public Schools and Dickinson State University facilities. TMI is offering space for administration offices in its basement.
Plans for the future of the school will be outlined at that time for both 7-12 students and their parents following an Ash Wednesday Mass service at 9:15 a.m. today at Queen of Peace Catholic Church.
“The Dickinson Public Schools, their administration has been incredible to work with the last two days. Dickinson State has been wonderful,” Glasser said in a phone interview. “We are so humbled by the outpouring of support. Dickinson Public Schools has just been off the charts with their generosity. We’re so appreciative of that.”
At 1:15 a.m. Monday, the Dickinson Fire Department was alerted to a call for service at Trinity High School, Chief Robert Sivak said Monday. Sivak said the blaze was controlled shortly after 3 a.m.
Rev. Patrick Schumacher, the vice president of Dickinson Catholic Schools, was able to enter the school Monday morning and said the 52-year-old building suffered “extensive damage” to the main floor and that the main office was “destroyed” in the blaze. There was major structural and smoke damage to the facility as well. Most materials, such as textbooks, are likely unusable.
Glasser said the school is insured through Catholic Mutual Group, which was contacted about the fire Monday.
Sander, in his first year at Trinity, was hired in July and came to Dickinson after working as an administrative intern at St. Albert’s High School in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Missouri native had also worked in marketing at NBC Universal in New York City before pursuing a career in education, Dickinson Catholic School officials said in July.
Trinity religion teacher Robert Storey, also in his first year at the school, was asleep in his apartment on the second floor of the school building when he said he was awakened by a fire alarm. Storey declined to comment Tuesday.
“I went over to the principal of the high school’s house, which is across the street,” Storey told The Press on Monday. “If I hadn’t woken up, the whole building would have gone up. I probably should have been (concerned for his own safety), but I’m not one who is easily shaken up.”
According to the North Dakota Century Code, a Class B felony charge is only associated with the crime of endangering by fire if “the actor places another person in danger of death under circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
A Class B felony carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment, a fine of $20,000, or both.
On the Dickinson Catholic Schools website, a solicitation notice asking for “fire relief” was posted Tuesday afternoon and stated that the school was “severely damaged by a fire that originated in the main office.” A link was provided for monetary donations.
Along with the Dickinson police and fire departments, the North Dakota State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are also involved in the investigation, Sivak said.