Thursday, June 18, 2009

Police following leads in torching of Totino Grace school buses in Fridley

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The damage to buses, purchased last year after a major fundraiser, is estimated at $100,000.

Police hope surveillance camera footage may lead them to whoever is responsible for the torching of two school buses at a private Catholic high school in Fridley this week.

No arrests have been made following the fire shortly before 2 a.m. Wednesday that destroyed one bus and left another seriously damaged at Totino-Grace High School. Lt. Mike Monsrud of the Fridley Police Department said investigators were on the street following leads based on footage from the school's survellance cameras.

In the meantime, officials at the school of 950 students say it's too early to determine when the buses will be replaced. Both buses, purchased last November, were insured. Damage is estimated at $100,000.

Monsrud said accelerant poured throughout the aisles of the burned-out bus was quickly detected, leading investigators to determine that the fire was an arson. The fire spread to the second bus, which was about 50 percent damaged. It is uncertain whether that bus can be salvaged. The buses were parked next to a garage facility that did not catch fire.

It's too early to determine any motive for the arson, including a bias crime against the school, Monsrud said .

"That's a possibility but not a real strong possibility," he said. "We haven't ruled that out yet, but it doesn't seem to be the case so far."

The arson comes as a difficult blow to a school that, like any others, is struggling in light of the recession, said Totino-Grace president Brother Milton Barker.

Though the two burned buses did not make up the school's entire fleet, they will need to be replaced before fall when classes resume, said Totino-Grace vice president Bill Hudson. Both buses were acquired as a result of a major fundraiser last fall after a anonymous donor agreed to buy a bus if benefactors pooled together to purchase a second. To have both buses damaged senselessly following such generosity by school supporters is disappointing, to say the least, Hudson said.

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