Airman admits to involvement in fire on Osan Air Base
May 31, 2003
TAEGU, South Korea — A U.S. airman in South Korea faces five years in prison and ouster from the Air Force after pleading guilty in an arson fire that roared through an Osan Air Base maintenance building.
A military court convicted Senior Airman Jeffrey L. Beagle, 23, of the 554th Red Horse Squadron of attempted arson, writing more than $5,000 of bad checks to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service at Osan, and being absent without leave for two days following the March 16 fire.
Repairs to the two-story Red Horse vehicle maintenance building where Beagle worked will cost almost $2 million, said Air Force Lt. Col. Roger Bruce, staff judge advocate with the 51st Fighter Wing. Extinguishing the blaze took almost five hours. It reached temperatures estimated at from 800 to 900 degrees, enough to melt steel, according to the Air Force.
Beagle placed a note on the building’s door that read, “All I can think about are bad things. I don’t want to live this way anymore. The Evil will burn in hell for all eternity.”
According to the Air Force, Beagle testified that suicide was his motive and said he’d spread accelerant on both floors of the building and himself with the intent of dying in the fire.
Beagle testified he began smoking a cigarette to build up courage to start the fire but accidentally dropped the cigarette, touching off the blaze.
Prosecutors, however, sought to refute the claim of suicide and said the real motive was to avenge perceived mistreatment by his unit, Bruce said.
They put on the witness stand some of Beagle’s co-workers, who testified he complained continually about his unit, Bruce said.
Prosecutors also told the court that Beagle, while in pretrial lock-up, wrote a note in which he continued to fault his unit for problems in his life.
Beagle also complained about his squadron in a confession to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, prosecutors told the court.
Prosecutors followed up with testimony from Chief Master Sgt Gilbert Lozano, the Osan fire chief, that contradicted Beagle’s claim the fire was triggered accidentally, according to the Air Force.
Lozano testified Beagle could not have doused himself with accelerant as he’d claimed and still have survived the fire.
“The chief, who was qualified an expert witness by the court,” said Bruce, “offered the opinion that Beagle couldn’t have set the fire in the manner claimed.
“If Beagle had doused himself with the accelerant and then lit the cigarette, both Beagle and the building would have been instantly up in flames and Beagle would not have survived.”
Lozano also testified the fire likely was started by a person standing anywhere within 50 feet of where the blaze actually erupted; an arsonist probably threw something into the room that would ignite the fire, then ran off, he said.
The judge, Col. David Brash of Yokota Air Base, Japan, found Beagle guilty of attempted arson but not guilty of the arson itself. Beagle had opted to be tried by a judge.
In sentencing, Beagle said he was suffering from depression. In an unsworn sentencing statement to the court, Beagle made no apologies, further criticized his supervisors and said of the bad checks that he’d “had fun,” Bruce said.
Beagle is jailed at the Camp Humphreys confinement facility pending transfer to a prison in the United States.