Charge dismissed against teen in fire that closed Cary Parkway
Posted December 18, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — 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."
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.