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Principal arrested in connection with fire at Dickinson Trinity

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By Bryan Horwath / Dickinson Press

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DICKINSON, N.D. - Dickinson Trinity High School’s principal was taken into custody Tuesday in connection with a fire at the school Monday morning.

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 the 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.

A bond hearing for Sander is scheduled for “the near future,” according to the release.

Dickinson Catholic Schools President Steve Glasser said Tuesday evening that he had no comment, but stated in a text message that “Trinity High School will not be open the rest of the school year.”

The school system plans to release a statement Wednesday morning.

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.

School was canceled for the week, and Trinity is making plans to collaborate with Dickinson State University and Dickinson Public Schools to use their facilities for the remainder of the school year.

The Rev. Patrick Schumacher, vice president of Dickinson Catholic Schools, was able to enter the building Monday morning and said the school sustained “extensive damage” to the main floor and that the main office was “destroyed.” There was major structural and smoke damage to the facility as well. Most materials, such as textbooks, are likely unusable.

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.

Dickinson police did not release more information on the case Tuesday night, saying the fire is still under investigation.

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 Monday afternoon, he was awakened by a fire alarm.

“I went over to the principal of the high school’s house, which is across the street,” Storey said Monday. “If I hadn’t woken up, the whole building would have gone up. I probably should have been (concerned for my safety), but I’m not one who is easily shaken up.”

According to the North Dakota Century Code, a Class B felony charge is associated with the crime of endangering by fire only 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.

Storey declined to comment Tuesday.

Glasser said in his text message that an “instructional plan” would be implemented Monday.

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, Firearms and Explosives are also involved in the investigation, Sivak said.

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