By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – The apartment manager charged with setting a small fire at the Centralia complex where she lived and worked was expected in Lewis County Superior Court this afternoon, but didn’t show up.
Kathrin L. Turner, 44, was charged with first-degree arson and summonsed to appear before a judge this afternoon.
Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Sara Beigh requested and was granted a $10,000 bench warrant for Turner’s arrest.
One of the tenants from the apartments on the 1100 block of Scammon Creek Road however did go to court for the expected hearing.
“I just don’t get it, I don’t know why she did this,” Shellie Hernandez said. “She was supposed to be our friend.”
Hernandez, 52, has lived in the building almost three years and has a caregiver to help her out. It was her apartment where the fire was set on the exterior wall the morning of Nov. 3, she said.
She wants Turner locked up.
“I fear for my life, I was there for the fire,” she said. “It was so scary.”
Turner is charged only with one count of arson, but the complex saw police and firefighters respond three times in a matter of days at the beginning of last month.
On the morning of Nov. 2, someone lit a paper towel on fire next to a building. A tenant put it out with a glass of water, according to police reports.
The next morning, the fire department was called when a fire broke out within a corridor of the same building, damaging an approximately 15 square foot area of exterior siding. Turner told responders she put it out with a fire extinguisher.
That weekend, Turner was found in the bathroom of a common area of the complex with severe lacerations to her wrists and throat. A box cutter was found after medics took her away, which a Centralia police officer surmised must have been beneath her on the floor.
Eventually police concluded it was a suicide attempt.
Police reports on the incidents state a cleaning wipes container which smelled of gasoline was found in a dumpster at the complex, and officers learned Turner was seen at a gas station getting fuel in a little red can early in the morning before the first fire, and she was seen taking a gas can from the trunk of her car and giving it to the landscape crew after the second fire.
As police investigated, they learned from a regional manager of the apartments that oddities and discrepancies in the bookkeeping were found. Turner was behind in depositing rent payments and money was possibly missing, Julie Ryan told police, according to one of the reports. Ryan said Turner was trying to move people into apartments that were occupied and that empty units were listed as filled, according to one report.
“She said this wasn’t like Turner to be off on this many rents,” detective Sgt. Carl Buster wrote.
It was more than a week later when detectives were able to speak with Turner, still hospitalized.
At first, Turner had said she was attacked by a stranger.
Detective Panco wrote that after initially denying involvement, Turner confessed. She said it was because she was “so overwhelmed” and the fires were part of the reason she hurt herself, he wrote.
She gave Panco this reason for the fires: She allegedly said she was trying to evict Hernandez from her unit but she wouldn’t leave. She said she’d promised that apartment to someone else, according to charging documents.
“So Turner thought maybe Shellie would move if there was a fire because that would scare Shellie,” Lewis County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Will Halstead wrote.
Her husband Kenneth Turner was interviewed at the hospital while his wife was being treated, before she was transferred to Tacoma General Hospital.
He told the officer she had been acting odd, talking about a strange black man with a black hat that she kept seeing and was making her nervous, for about the previous two weeks, according to one police report.
When asked if she had ever done anything like this before, he told the officer yes, a few years back when she was overstressed and “basically had a nervous breakdown.”
Kenneth Turner said the things stressing her currently were the arsons, the black man following her and that they were very behind on their bills, unable to pay surgery, hospital and utility bills, Officer Phil Weismiller wrote.
Other parts of the police reports note medical staff telling police of a history of an undiagnosed mental issue and newly discovered blood clots which could have decreased oxygen to her brain and explained bizarre behavior.
First-degree arson is a class A felony with a maximum penalty of life in prison.
After today’s court hearing, Deputy Prosecutor Beigh said she learned Turner was in the hospital, so she was planning to get the arrest warrant rescinded and send a summons for her to appear at a later date.
For background, read “News brief: Apartment arsons blamed on employee” from Tuesday November 15, 2016, here