Wednesday, May 18, 2022

3 men face arson charges after fires burned 13 homes

by AMY BETH HANSON Associated Press
| December 9, 2021 2:00 PM

HELENA (AP) — Three men, one of whom told investigators that they were driving around "smoking marijuana and shooting fireworks at each other inside the vehicle" last week, face arson charges after two fires burned 13 homes south of Great Falls, Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said.

Galvinn Coates Munson, Brandon Cordell Bennett Jr., and Jevin James McLean were charged Wednesday with arson by accountability or an alternative charge of negligent arson by accountability.

Munson, 19, also faces 14 counts of felony criminal endangerment because the fires, which started at about 2:40 a.m. on Dec. 1 and were pushed by high winds, created a risk of death or serious injury to area residents, who were sleeping, court records said. Bennett and McLean said Munson set both fires, court records said.

Home surveillance video of a car seen in the area where the fires started, tips from the public and videos of the fires briefly posted on social media helped lead to the arrests, Slaughter said Wednesday.

Justice of the Peace Dave Grubich set bail at $100,000 for Munson, who was out on bail at the time of the fires after being charged earlier this year in a rape that reportedly happened in July 2019. Munson has pleaded not guilty to the rape charge.

Bail was set at $50,000 each for Bennett, 18, and McLean, 19. All are subject to GPS monitoring if they are released, County Attorney Josh Racki said Thursday.

None of the men entered a plea and all requested public defenders, but attorneys have not been appointed, Racki said. The men remained jailed Thursday,

Munson, who declined to be questioned by officers, shot a Roman candle — a kind of firework — into the grass, starting the first fire, Bennett and McLean told investigators. The men tried to stomp out the fire, but were unsuccessful and drove off, court records said.

A short time later, Munson asked McLean to pull the car over again and Munson used a lighter to set another fire, his co-defendants said, according to charging documents.

Bennett and McLean acknowledged taking cellphone video of Munson starting the fires using the Snapchat app, investigators said.

The men went home without reporting the fires, prosecutors said. The fire also burned 16 outbuildings, numerous vehicles and other property, court records said.