Investigator testifies he thinks Tara Andvik set fires at her rural Barnesville farmstead
MOORHEAD - In sometimes tearful interviews with investigators, Tara Andvik repeatedly denied setting fires to her rural Barnesville farmstead last October, telling a detective she would never put her children's lives at risk.
"I'm not an arsonist. I don't even burn pictures of old boyfriends," Andvik said in one of several recordings played for jurors Monday as her arson trial began its second week.
An insurance investigator testified he believes Andvik set the fires.
James Faber, an Alexandria-based fire investigator who looked into the fires on behalf of Oscar Parke Mutual Insurance Co. of Rothsay, said Andvik was the only person at or in the vicinity of the farm when the six fires were reported between Oct. 7 and 19. The last fire left the home uninhabitable.
"She's right there. She had to have caused that fire, in my opinion, as well as the others," Faber said.
Clay County District Court jurors heard an audio recording of Faber's interview with Andvik the day after the Oct. 19 house fire. She said it started about five minutes after her husband, Matt Andvik, left the house to bring their two young children to his parents' nearby farm, where they were staying because of the recent rash of fires.
Tara Andvik told Faber she was cleaning the bathroom and had walked into the living room when she saw smoke rising from a crack in the floor.
"I've never been that scared in my life," she said.
Tara Andvik also said there was "no way" she could have started the Oct. 12 fire that destroyed their barn, which the state fire marshal noticed was on fire as he was in the kitchen interviewing Matt Andvik about a deck fire that had occurred that morning.
Authorities believe Tara Andvik sneaked out of her bedroom and set the barn fire while the fire marshal and Clay County Sheriff's Detective Jason Hicks were interviewing her husband.
But Tara Andvik said in the interview with Faber that she had taken sleep medication after the deck fire and "was so out of it."
"Being dead asleep, there's no way I did any of that," she said.
When Faber asked if she had mental health issues, Andvik said she took Paxil for about 10 years to treat depression and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after an assault that happened while she was in the Army. She also said she was diagnosed in 2010 with anorexia, for which she was treated.
Andvik, who faces three counts of first-degree arson, said she believed the fires were set intentionally.
"But I know that I didn't do them," she said, later raising suspicion about a young man at a neighboring residence she described as a "troublemaker."
Andvik also denied having a sexual affair with Keith Beam, the hunter and TV producer who referred Andvik and her husband to become contributors to a show on the Outdoor Channel.
Beam testified last week that he and Andvik had a sexual affair and that he believed she set the fires to frame him because she didn't like how the affair ended. But she downplayed the relationship in her Oct. 12 interview, describing it as "a whole make-out thing, like a high school thing."
Andvik said Beam told her after the breakup that he would make her life miserable. She described him as a "brilliant" man of means who was angry she wouldn't leave her husband, and she said she believed he set the fires.
"In my heart, I think he did," she said.
Hicks testified that during the investigation into the barn fire, he discovered that the gate to a fenced area around the bedroom doors was found to be left open. He said it would have been possible for someone to exit the gate and traverse the farmyard without being seen to set the back of the barn on fire.
He said Tara Andvik was videotaping the barn fire, and she asked him what he was doing when he was photographing the gate.
"She just seemed to be acting strange about the whole thing," he said.
During the jury's afternoon break Monday, heated words were exchanged outside the courtroom between members of Tara Andvik, her family and her husband's family, apparently over statements she made during her interview with Hicks after the Oct. 12 fires. She told Hicks that her in-laws didn't like that she was posting on Facebook about fires on the property. She said they made her feel like a horrible parent and told her she couldn't protect her kids.
Hicks also testified about how investigators monitored Andvik's Facebook pages - she had three, including one under an alias - for clues to who might be behind the fires. Andvik posted to Facebook constantly, he said, noting investigators amassed almost 3,000 pages of activity.