No charges in 2008 Montrose Athletic Club fire
MONTROSE — A prosecutor with the La Plata County District Attorney’s Office in Durango said Tuesday that no criminal charges are being filed at this point for the 2008 arson fire at the Montrose Athletic Club.
Prosecutor Christian Champagne said in a written statement that “insufficient evidence” kept the DA’s office from pursuing charges after receiving a report complied by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation that took nearly two years to complete.
“After thorough review of the case file and meeting with the lead investigators at the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, it was determined that there is insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges at this time,” Champagne said.
The fire occurred at 12:43 a.m. Sept. 24, 2008, at the Montrose Athletic Club, also known as the “MAC,” located at 100 Apollo Drive in Montrose.
According to Dale Erickson, deputy fire chief with the Montrose Fire Department, the MAC fire was an especially hard fire to gain control of because of the extreme heat and location of the fire.
“It was a very hot fire that was primarily in the basement area,” said Deputy Fire Chief Dale Erickson.
According to fire department reports, damage to the property was estimated at $1.5 million and the estimated loss to contents of the building was around $250,000.
An investigation determined that the cause of the fire was arson, at which point all evidence was turned over the CBI. That investigation was nearly complete until a surprise witness came forward months ago with new information.
The report and its finding were turned over to the La Plata County District Attorney’s Office to avoid a conflict of interest because the owner of the athletic club at the time of the fire was Mead Serra, who is the brother of Montrose County District Attorney Myrl Serra.
Mead Serra did not return phone calls requesting comment.
According to an arson report filed by Montrose Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael Schell, it was observed that a hydrocarbon accelerant, such as gasoline, was used in as many as five different areas. The fire originated on the men’s locker room side of the lower level, just inside the storeroom under a viewing area and reception area of the main floor.
The fire was the second fire at the athletic club within 16 months. The first was in May of 2007. An investigation determined faulty equipment was to blame.
Three days before the 2008 fire, an employee called the fire department after finding two 5-gallon buckets, uncovered and filled with a clear liquid, which was determined to be gasoline. The buckets were found inside a store room, each beside a box of paper towels. According to Montrose Fire Department reports, the employee was an ex-police officer who knew the buckets should not have been in the store room.
Gary and Tammy West owned the club for 23 years before selling to Mead Serra.
“It’s just very disappointing to hear that no charges are being filed,” Gary West said.