A fire last August in Casey that destroyed the City Hall there, was likely caused by arson. And, while arson is suspected as the reason for the blaze, in an interview with the Omaha World-Herald, Ron Humphrey, Iowa’s chief fire investigator said the damage was so extensive that the cause might never be officially determined.
The combination City Hall and Community Center burned down early Aug. 20th, the day that state auditors were scheduled to arrive to look at the city’s books. Flames were first spotted in the part of the building where the city offices were located. Humphrey said while all the signs point to arson, proving it is difficult.
Investigators, including those from the FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are awaiting the release of the state audit, which is likely months away. The city’s records burned in the fire, making the audit far more difficult.
There have been no arrests. A search warrant, which remains sealed, was executed shortly after the blaze at the home of the longtime city clerk, Dorothy Dillinger. Casey Mayor Forrest Schnobrich said Dillinger was interviewed by investigators a few days after the fire. He said she never returned to work after the interview and later resigned. Humphrey said Dillinger was very cooperative and denied having anything to do with the blaze.
Local officials knew the state auditors were scheduled to arrive that day. The audit of city finances was being done as the result of a petition signed by more than 160 local residents. While larger communities in Iowa are audited annually. The City of Casey hadn’t been audited in more than 20 years. Residents in Casey and three other small communities petitioned for an audit in the 2014 fiscal year.
Judi Zimmerline, who owns a hair salon in Casey, was an organizer of the petition drive. It was circulated, she said, because an audit hadn’t been done for so long and because there were suspicions of shoddy bookkeeping. Casey’s mayor has described the call for an audit as a “fishing expedition.” He believes the timing of the fire to be a coincidence.
Joh Ham, spokesman for the ATF’s Fire Research Lab in Maryland, told the paper evidence from the fire is being tested. Meanwhile, a new city clerk is on the job. The city offices have moved temporarily to the basement of the Rolling Hills Bank & Trust across the street. Schnobrich says he hopes the city can rebuild a new city hall-community center on the site of the old one. The city is insured to cover the cost up to $1.2 million.