New Jersey man pleads guilty in two Dorchester County fires
Two weeks after he denied any wrongdoing in an interview, Ryan Andrew Debran pleaded guilty in a Dorchester County court to charges that he set one home on fire and attempted to burn down another.
Debran, a 19-year-old New Jersey native living in Harleyville, was sentenced under the state Youthful Offender Act to no more than five years on two counts of third-degree arson, court records show. He was being held Friday at Kirkland Correctional Institution in Columbia.
First Circuit Assistant Solicitor Don Sorenson said Debran will likely serve upward of a year in state prison before being released on parole.
"This was what we had asked the judge for," Sorenson said, adding that Debran's attorney, John Loy, merely sought probation during the May 16 plea hearing.
Loy did not return requests for comment.
In a phone interview May 1, two weeks prior to his plea hearing, Debran denied wrongdoing in the fires and insisted that he's never committed arson.
When asked why deputies would latch on to him as a person of interest, Debran replied, "I haven't yet figured that out. I guess they were going on a lead."
Sheriff's deputies were looking for connections to Debran in a number of unsolved fires set throughout rural Dorchester County.
When asked to provide information on their recent suspicious fires, Dorchester County sheriff's deputies released reports for upward of 60 cases, some solved, going back two years. Deputies would not say how many of those cases may be connected to one another.
Debran has only been charged in connection with two fires set in January 2012.
Sheriff's deputies at the time reported that Debran had notified them about flames in a vacant mobile home on East Main Street in the town of Dorchester.
An incident report described Debran as "a volunteer firefighter with the Dorchester Fire Department who was assisting with the fire."
Debran later told The Post and Courier that he had studied to be a volunteer firefighter, but that he didn't complete the program.
Debran told investigators that he and a friend had been driving down East Main Street when they noticed the flames inside the trailer and stopped to seek help.
Sheriff's deputies identified Debran's friend as James Brian Infinger, then 17, of Indian Field Circle in St. George.
The teens quickly became the focus of an investigation and were arrested within two weeks of the blaze. An arrest affidavit for Infinger said he admitted that he and Debran entered the trailer and used a combustible liquid to set the fire. The pair then fled the scene in Debran's white Neon only to return minutes later to call authorities, detectives said.
They were charged with two counts each of second-degree arson for the Main Street fire and another incident in the Rosinville area. In that case, investigators said someone had tried unsuccessfully to burn down a trailer.
Infinger pleaded guilty to one lesser charge of malicious damage to property and was sentenced to five years of probation, court records show. Prosecutors chose not to pursue his other arson charge.
Debran pleaded guilty to the lesser third-degree arson charges.
He is still awaiting trial in Calhoun County on unrelated charges of impersonating an officer and failure to stop for a blue light, court records show.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.