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Charge dismissed against teen in fire that closed Cary Parkway

Posted December 18, 2013

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— The only criminal charge filed in connection with a March culvert fire that forced Cary Parkway to be closed for three weeks for repairs was dismissed Wednesday against a Cary teen.

Tristan Matthew Zammit, 17, of Brownfield Drive in Cary, had been charged with intentionally setting fire to grass, brush lands or woodlands.

"He's a good kid. He's making some changes and doing well, and we're ready to move forward and get on with our lives, and he wants to do that and he's growing up through the process," defense attorney Drew Sprague said.

Zammit and his father declined to comment as they left the Wake County Courthouse.

Wake County Assistant District Attorney April Taylor said in court documents that "the recovery of restitution is of greater concern than criminal responsibility" and that they were dropping the charges because a civil suit was likely to be filed against Zammit in the case.

"Dismissal of criminal charges is warranted based on circumstances surrounding civil suit," Taylor wrote in the dismissal notice.

If Zammit were convicted of a crime in the case, the family's homeowner's insurance would view the fire an an intentional act and most likely not pay for the damage, authorities said. The insurer would pay for something that is the result of negligence, so prosecutors said there is a better chance of recovering the money in civil court.

“If we legally convict him, we foreclose on the opportunity to recover civilly. This allows the process to go forward on behalf of the taxpayers,” Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said. "We tried to take into consideration all of the factors in making this decision. It wasn't made lightly."

Fire damages Cary culvert State working to get teen's insurance to pay for culvert repairs

The state Attorney General's Office is working with the Department of Transportation to help the state recoup the $482,120 spent to repair the culvert and Cary Parkway.

The heat from the March 21 fire caused part of the culvert to collapse, forcing the state Department of Transportation to close westbound lanes of Cary Parkway between Lake Pine Drive and Two Creeks Road so crews could tear up the pavement and replace the culvert.

"We had to completely reroute ourselves through Lake Pine to go anywhere over that way," Cary resident Walt Courtenay said Wednesday. "It was just a real pain."

Cary firefighters found the name "Tristan" written in tar on the concrete face of the culvert after the fire, according to court documents. The tar had been melted off a coating used to protect the inside of the culvert from corrosion, and firefighters said the process of melting the tar could have sparked the fire.

The day after the fire, Cary Crime Stoppers received a tip that Zammit had sent a friend a text message asking the friend to go see what Zammit had done to the culvert, court documents state.

Zammit, a Cary High School student, later confessed to setting the fire, police said.

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  • cydonian Dec 20, 2013

    "If Zammit were convicted of a crime in the case, the family's homeowner's insurance would view the fire an an intentional act..."? Hello? It WAS an intentional act; therefore, a crime WAS committed. And exactly how is it going to benefit the taxpayers of NC if this imperious brat's parent's insurance winds up paying for the damages in a civil suit (assuming the state of NC wins)? When insurance companies have to pay anyone for anything, EVERYONE winds up paying for it. Just like taxes. All I can say to this kid is - you're lucky you're not black or you'd already be in prison.

  • superman Dec 19, 2013

    The caused one half million damage and they dismissed the chrges. The judge was trying to play Santa.

  • bertram Dec 19, 2013

    Lord, I hope these parents not only hide the matches, but bury the car keys as well. This "kid" isn't done sticking it to his parents and the world. A sack of coal and an ankle monitor for this one, Santa!

  • PickAnotherID Dec 19, 2013

    Not to defend the kid, but if Cary cleaned the brush out of these culverts now and then, maybe the fire wouldn't have had the fuel to take off the way it did.

  • lowepg Dec 19, 2013

    Lot's of silly and/or misinformed comments here: the family is rich, the kids an angel, the kids a devil, the judge went crazy, etc, etc.

    I'm certainly not trying to exonerate the parents from responsibility here, but it CERTAINLY does not appear to be a case where THEY tried to buy his way out of this- quite the opposite. This kid has been in trouble before, he's got some problems for sure. I think its a difficult question as to how to be prevent HIS problems from becoming more of OUR problems. Jail? Counseling, drugs?

    I don't know what the right punishment is. I DO think the DA caused some optics problems by dismissing. If he didn't want the kid in jail, i would think they could handle that with sentencing- without making it seem like "this was OK, nevermind"

  • piloterror1 Dec 19, 2013

    so how much was restitution?????

  • SmileAndNod Dec 18, 2013

    Affluenza?

  • luv2bkicking Dec 18, 2013

    First of all I know these parents and they are great people and certainly have not raised Tristan to behave this way. They have taken a great many of steps and forms of counseling to no avail. The parents did not fail him, the system did. The parents begged for tristan to do jail time so you can blame this one on the kid's attorney that WAS NOT hired by the parents

  • totallywiredx2 Dec 18, 2013

    the people will pay the bill, either by taxation or by increased insurance premiums

  • ncmedic201 Dec 18, 2013

    I would imagine this was a very difficult decision to make. He probably would have received probation and community service and the state would have been stuck with the bill. The state probably would have never recouped the costs. On the other hand, people should be held accountable in some way. He will not be held accountable, unless the state/county/businesses plan to sue for more than the insurance will cover. Seems like a lose-lose situation either way.

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