Man can avoid criminal conviction for mailbox and tree arson

Nov. 23—EAU CLAIRE — An Eau Claire man has the opportunity to avoid a felony conviction for intentionally setting a mailbox and tree on fire on Franklin Street.

Stuart C. Vroome, 66, 3104 Milton Road, pleaded guilty this week in Eau Claire County Court to a felony count of arson of property other than a building.

As part of a two-year deferred agreement with prosecutors, the arson charge will be dismissed if Vroome pays a $300 fine, commits no new crimes, performs 40 hours of community service, pays $120 in restitution, has no contact with the 500 block of Franklin Street, doesn't possess any materials that may potentially start a fire, and undergoes a mental health evaluation.

According to the criminal complaint:

An Eau Claire police officer was sent to a residence in the 500 block of Franklin Street in the early morning hours of July 14 after firefighters extinguished a mailbox that was on fire. Firefighters believed the fire was intentionally set.

The resident said he went to take the trash out to the street when he saw that his mailbox was engulfed in flames.

About an hour later, police were again sent to the residence because someone had returned to the home and set a tree on fire in the front yard.

The resident said he saw a maroon SUV that was used by the person who started the tree fire. The vehicle fled south on Franklin Street.

Later that day, police stopped a maroon SUV at Farwell and Wisconsin streets because of a defective brake lamp.

The driver was identified as Vroome, who matched the description of the suspect in the arson case provided by the resident on Franklin Street.

An officer could smell a strong odor of gasoline or lighter fluid coming from the SUV. The officer saw two gas cans and a bottle of lighter fluid in the back seat.

Vroome said he was not on Franklin Street and denied starting any fires.

When asked about the gasoline and lighter fluid, Vroome said he tends to campgrounds.

Vroome was arrested because he matched the description of the suspect leaving the fire scene and because the tree that was set on fire smelled strongly of gas or lighter fluid.