published Saturday, February 19th, 2011

9-year-old charged in restaurant fire

A 9-year-old boy faces a charge of aggravated arson after he was linked to a fire earlier this month at a fast food restaurant.

"He denied setting the fire. He never confessed to it," said Bruce Garner, public information director for Chattanooga Fire Department. "The evidence suggested he started it."

Investigators said the boy ignited a small blaze by torching toilet paper inside the men's room of the Hardee's at 6013 Shallowford Road on Feb. 5.

He was booked in at the Juvenile Detention Center Friday, Garner said. His name is not being released because he is a juvenile.

No one was injured, and the fire caused about $5,000 in damages, Garner said. Patrons inside the restaurant had to be evacuated from the building.

Garner said it's not unheard of for juveniles to be charged in arson cases.

Nearly two years ago, another 9-year-old boy was also charged with aggravated arson after a Hixson Dollar General store burned to the ground. The boy in that case also reportedly lit rolls of toilet paper, causing $1 million in damages in April 2009.

Tennessee state law does not hold parents or caretakers responsible for a child's actions if the minor acted alone during the commission of a crime, said Chattanooga defense attorney Stan Lanzo.

"They certainly wouldn't be criminally responsible," Lanzo said. "It's a stretch to make a parent responsible."

However, parents could be open to civil litigation, he said.

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