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Alpine arsonist accepts plea deal

May 11th, 2017 under Top Stories
Karl Peterson

Karl Peterson

By CAMERON DODD

cameron@bigbendnow.com

ALPINE — The Alpine-resident accused of starting last October’s fire at the Alpine Post Office pleaded guilty and accepted a plea bargain last week. He faces almost five years in prison for damaging a building leased by the government.

Alpine resident Karl Peterson, 59, admitted to intentionally starting a fire at the Alpine Post Office in October of 2016. Peterson has agreed to pay restitution on the damages and serve a prisson sentence of 37 months.

The fire Peterson admitted to starting occurred in the early morning hours of October 20, 2016. Peterson was arrested five days later and has been held without bond.

Peterson accepted a plea agreement at a U.S. magistrate court in Alpine on May 4, according to the U.S Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas. The agreement commits to Peterson to 37 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Peterson has also agreed to pay restitution of $22,618.55 for damage to the post office.

The felony arson charge also carries a potential fine of up to $250,000. A fine was not part of Peterson’s plea agreement, according to a court recording from the May 4 hearing. A fine will be decided at the sentencing hearing in the coming months.

Although no motive for the arson has been established, the case against Peterson is strong. According to court documents, Alpine Police Department investigators used footage from various surveillance cameras to track Peterson’s movements through downtown Alpine in the minutes leading up to the fire.

Footage from surveillance cameras at the Stripes gas station showed Peterson arriving at 4:08 a.m. on October 20. He purchased a gallon of water, a soda bottle and baseball cap before riding off on his motorcycle. At 4:14 a.m. Peterson arrived at the Triangle gas station on the other side of town, surveillance footage from that store shows. Peterson pumped gasoline into what appeared to be a clear plastic bottle. Transaction history from Stripes and the Triangle stores reveal the same MasterCard was used in both purchases, according to court documents.

Peterson showed up a few minutes later in surveillance footage from the car wash across the Holland Street from the Alpine Post Office. He arrived at the post office at 4:21 a.m. and left two few minutes later.

A passerby reported the fire in a 911 call received by Alpine Emergency Services at 4:30 a.m.

Alpine Police identified Peterson in the surveillance footage for his recognizable white beard, motorcycle license plate number and identifiable way of walking, according to court documents. He was arrested on October 26 on one count of arson involving a federal facility. The felony carries a sentence of between five and 20 years, according to the U.S. Code.

Peterson has been held without bond since his arrest. “There is clear and convincing evidence that the Defendant is a danger to the community as well as a preponderance of evidence which

indicates that the Defendant is a flight risk,” the court order denying bond reads.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office made the case that Peterson’s brief criminal record and a history of substance abuse and mental health disorders were reason to hold him without bond. Peterson Had been convicted of driving without a license in 2001.

In 2015, he was charged with burglary of a residence. According to Alpine Avalanche reporting from the time, Peterson had been caught stealing rattlesnakes from another Alpine resident. The charges were dismissed in 2016 “due to mental illness,” according to court documents.

A sentencing hearing for Peterson has not been scheduled yet.

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