Arsonist convicted of burning building in Conway in 2017, sentenced to 15 years in prison

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (News Release)- David Hartsell, who admitted to starting the fire that ultimately destroyed the Germantown Apartment Complex in Conway and injured multiple people, will serve 15 years in prison after being sentenced on Thursday.

United States District Court Judge D.P. Marshall Jr., sentenced Hartsell, 52, of Conway, to 180 months’ imprisonment, followed by five years of supervised release, and ordered him to pay $378,541 in restitution. Cody Hiland, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and Stephen Bridgmon, Acting Resident Agent in Charge of the Little Rock Field Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) announced the sentence.

Hartsell set the fire, which destroyed the 12-unit apartment complex, on February 27, 2017. A federal grand jury indicted Hartsell on two counts malicious destruction of property by mean of fire, with injury, and possession of a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence on July 11, 2017. He pleaded guilty to Count 1, the arson charge, on March 7, 2019.

“This 15-year sentence demonstrates the seriousness of the defendant’s actions,” stated U.S. Attorney Hiland. “Hartsell’s reckless behavior placed innocent people, including several small children, in the path of a raging fire. He also permanently displaced numerous families from their homes. This senseless destruction will not be tolerated.”

An ATF investigation concluded that the fire began in Hartsell’s own apartment in the Germantown complex. Hartsell used a flammable liquid to start the fire. After the fire was extinguished, the Conway Fire Department located what appeared to be two “Molotov cocktails,” or containers with incendiary liquid with wicks attached, in Hartsell’s apartment.

At Thursday’s sentencing hearing, ATF Special Agent Warren Newman (who is also a trained medic) testified about the significant danger the fire posed to the Germantown occupants, as well as the serious injuries sustained by some of the residents. According to Newman, the fire started around 4 a.m., when most of the occupants were asleep. It spread from Hartsell’s apartment to other apartments rapidly, and quickly engulfed one whole side of the complex. The residents on the second (top) floor had only one means of getting down—a staircase which was engulfed in flames. Because of this, residents had to jump from the second floor.

SA Newman stated that he conducted interviews with multiple people, including one individual who had to break out a window and tie bed sheets together to get down. That tenant’s adult dog and five newborn puppies died in the fire. Another family on the second floor had to jump from their window. One woman fractured five vertebrae in the fall. Her husband then had to drop their young children out the window to people waiting to catch them below.

The most serious injury occurred when an upstairs tenant who had no other means of escape from his apartment had to run through his front door and a wall of flame and jump from the balcony. According to SA Newman, this individual suffered significant burns over most of his body, and suffered a serious heart injury from the impact of the fall. He required
hospitalization for more than a year, and SA Newman stated he still suffers from his injuries.

The ATF, including the agency’s National Response Team, and Conway Fire Department and Conway Police Department investigated this case. Assistant United States Attorney Chris Givens prosecuted the case.

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