Chewelah man exonerated of all charges in arson case

RaeLynn Ricarte

Last week, a jury exonerated Garret Lace Olson, 20, of all charges brought against him by the Stevens County Prosecutor’s Office, including arson, assault, and reckless endangerment.
One juror went so far as to say, “Good luck young man” before leaving the courtroom after the verdict was read by Superior Court Judge Jessica Reeves.
“We’re really ecstatic that jurors viewed it the same way the family and I viewed it — as a terrible accident that was just kids being kids,” said defense attorney Steve Graham, who practices out of Spokane and Republic.
“My client feels sick about how Mr. [Casey] Munter was injured. He also feels heavily about getting his life back on track.”
Olson was arrested on multiple charges following an investigation into the incident on Dec. 22, 2018, by Sheriff’s Deputy Cameron Craddock. 
The deputy interviewed multiple witnesses who said Olson, of Chewelah, threw a five-gallon bucket that contained fuel residue onto the fire, which caused an explosion. 
Craddock estimated that Munter, then 28,  was standing about 10 feet from the fire when the explosion occurred. 
He was burned badly enough after his clothing caught fire that he was transported to Providence Mount Carmel Hospital and then flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where skin grafts were required to repair burn damage on 25% of his body.
Munter spent about a month in the hospital undergoing painful treatments to care for his wounds, which had caused continuing depression and anxiety, his father, John Munter, told the jury.
“He was in excruciating pain, they had difficulty getting it under control,” he said while on the stand. “He’s not made it back to the same normal.”
In his report, Craddock noted that several witnesses said the group had been standing around the bonfire and drinking. The deputy visited the scene and observed “beer cans scattered all over the place” and a cooler in Olson’s pickup, along with a case of Coors Light. 
Olson reportedly told one of the subjects, who helped get Munter’s burning clothing off, that he had thrown the bucket on the fire and felt bad about what had happened.
He said he had been feeding the fire to keep pallets burning all evening and thought the bucket was empty, which he also told the jury after taking the stand on Feb. 12.
Olson said the lid was on the bucket, but the cap used to pour the contents was not, so he did not foresee an explosion. 
Chelsea Crocker of Ione was also burned badly enough on her face, neck, chest and stomach to be transported to Harborview, and several others in the crowd were burned to a lesser degree.
During the three-day trial that began Feb. 10, Dr. Saman Arbabi, a trauma surgeon at Harborview, testified about the “high level of pain” involved in removing dead skin, fighting infection in a severe wound and preparing it for a skin graft. 
“The visible scarring is probably never going to go away,” he said of Munter’s injuries.
Following the verdict, John noted that his son had burns on 60% of his body. He said that he did not understand how a jury could absolve Olson of any responsibility for inflicting chronic injuries that affected his son’s mobility and quality of life. 
Munter said he did not expect Olson to serve time in prison, but he did believe the defendant should at least have been found guilty of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor, for the harm he had caused.
“I find it absolutely appalling that our justice system and jurors of our community have found there to be no consequences for accidental and very foolish acts that resulted in the severe burns of multiple people, and that left lifelong scars,” he said. 
“I would like to have some consequences for his actions —not because he harmed my son, but because he harmed another human being.”
Deputy Prosecutor Erika George sought a conviction against Olson of first-degree arson, which carried a potential prison sentence of 21-27 years and/or a $50,000 fine; unlawful possession of an incendiary device, which carried a potential 10-year prison term; three counts of three third-degree assault, which had a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine; and two counts of reckless endangerment, which could have meant a year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.
Tim Rasmussen, the elected prosecutor for Stevens County, said of the verdict: “Sometimes things known are not necessarily evidence and that affects a jury’s decision.
“However, it has always been my position that the presentation of all admissible evidence to a carefully selected jury is the best way to achieve a result that reflects an acceptable resolution of the case. In the end, the jury felt this was a tragic accident.”
With the exoneration, all no contact orders that had been in place for Olson were dismissed.