Arrest made in suspicious Birdseye blaze

Jacob Wiegand/The Herald
Birdseye Volunteer Fire Department Chief David “Smitty” Smith said from the beginning that the fire at the Koerner Commerical Block building was suspicious in nature.


BIRDSEYE — Authorities have taken a Birdseye man into custody and accused him of starting the Thursday fire that destroyed the Koerner Commerical Block building.


Indiana State Police took Adam L. Hensley, 36, 140 W. State Road 64, into custody Monday on preliminary charges that include a Level 4 felony count of arson, a Level 6 felony count of residential entry and a preliminary misdemeanor count of criminal mischief.

A call reporting the fire that claimed the two-story brick building that had been part of Birdseye’s downtown since the 1890s came in at 3:18 p.m. Authorities now say a witness reported seeing Hensley coming from the area of the building at 101 and 103 State Road 145 at the time.

Birdseye Volunteer Fire Department Chief David “Smitty” Smith said from the beginning that the fire was suspicious in nature. The investigation into its cause has involved the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office, Indiana State Police, the Birdseye Town Marshal and the Dubois County Sheriff’s Department.

As part of the investigation, authorities reportedly made contact Monday with someone known to Hensley who indicated Hensley was thought to be in possession of several items — a book, a cellphone charger and a lottery ticket — belonging to the person being interviewed.

Then state police received a report Monday that an apartment in a house along State Road 145 in Birdseye had been entered. Authorities found the door to the apartment open and, inside, were the items Hensley had been alleged to have had in his possession.

Authorities are saying someone then brought Hensley to the scene. He was taken into custody on the residential entry and criminal mischief accusations and booked into the Dubois County Security Center at 7:09 p.m.

After taking Hensley to jail, state police said, he was charged with arson based on the additional information found through the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office’s investigation.

State police say it has been determined Hensley set fire to the Koerner Block building, escaped from the fire and had a witness on scene dial 911.

Authorities allege Hensley admitted to the Monday residential entry and to starting last week’s Koerner Commercial Block fire. Specifically, in court documents, he is said to have admitted to intentionally setting a fire by igniting a tarp with a match on the second floor of the building.

Hensley is alleged to have said he was mesmerized by fire and watched the blaze before attempting to put the fire out.

Court documents indicate Hensley initially could not get out the back door of the Koerner building because it seemed locked or screwed shut. He is quoted in court documents as saying he eventually used some type of object to break out a window to escape from the burning structure.

Volunteers had been working to save the downtown building lost to arson. Indiana Landmarks had secured an option agreement on the building and, in late February of this year, the Dubois County Commissioners verbally agreed to the preservationists’ request to forgive approximately $10,000 in back taxes so a stabilized Koerner Block could be offered for $1 to a party that could demonstrate an ability to take it on and rehabilitate it.

Now, in the wake of last week’s loss, volunteers are trying to come up with a time community partners can meet to discuss their next steps.

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