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Austin man pleads guilty to arson

Christopher Eric Oleson, 20, of Austin pleaded guilty to felony third-degree arson as part of a plea agreement on Thursday in Mower County District Court.

A charge of felony second-degree arson and another charge of felony third-degree arson will be dismissed at the sentencing as part of the agreement.

Christopher Eric Oleson, 20

Court documents state that Austin fire and police were dispatched to a dumpster fire at about 9:40 p.m. on Feb. 10 in the delivery area behind Jim’s MarketPlace. While there, dispatch advised of another dumpster fire near Huffman Flooring.

The reporting party told police she was working nearby and smelled something burning at about 9:20 p.m. She said she left work a few minutes later and saw a cloud of smoke in the air over Jim’s MarketPlace and discovered that the dumpster was on fire.

An adult male witness told police that he observed a white male suspect light the fire in the dumpster near Huffman Flooring. He said that he saw the suspect then walk to a dumpster at the Canadian Pacific Railroad, but he saw people working and walked to the north.

A detective obtained footage from a security camera located near Jim’s MarketPlace. The footage showed Oleson, wearing a dark snowsuit and winter hat, walk to the dumpster and walk away as flames could be seen in the dumpster.

An officer later advised the detective that he had made contact with Oleson on Feb. 12 near Packer Arena and he saw what he believed to be sparks near him. He said Oleson told him he was lighting a cardboard box on fire to keep warm. The officer’s squad car video showed Oleson wearing the same clothes as in the security camera footage.

Another officer also advised that he had made contact with Oleson on Feb. 11 in the parking lot of Ankeny’s on East Oakland. The officer’s squad car video showed Oleson pulling a sled and wearing the same clothes as in the other footage. The officer advised that the sled contained scrap wood.

The male witness police spoke to on Feb. 10 was shown screen shots taken of Oleson from the video footage. He identified Oleson as the suspect he saw lighting the fire near Huffman Flooring.

Police located Oleson and interviewed him at the Mower County Law Enforcement Center. After being read a Miranda warning and being advised that there were witnesses and video cameras that captured the fires, Oleson told police he was “partially homeless” and had difficulty staying warm at night. He said he did not start the fires on purpose, nor did he notice them getting larger. When asked why he left the fires if he was trying to stay warm, Oleson said he had “the mentality of a two-year-old” and suffers from depression. He admitted to lighting the dumpster fire at Jim’s MarketPlace, two dumpster fires near Huffman Flooring (Feb. 1 and Feb. 10) and a Feb. 2 dumpster fire at Ankeny’s.

A representative from Thompson Sanitation gave an estimate of $1,200 worth of damage to the dumpster at Huffman Flooring. A representative from Waste Management estimated the damage to the dumpsters at Jim’s MarketPlace and Ankeny’s was $927 and $668 respectively.

A review of Oleson’s criminal record shows a prior conviction for theft. He is currently awaiting sentencing for a felony fifth-degree drug possession conviction.

Oleson will be sentenced on Aug. 5.