Gavin Schultz, a former Fairfield University student and one-time resident of Jogues Hall has begun serving a six-month jail sentence for setting fire to the dorm’s first floor bathroom in May of 1999. Although some students are sympathetic to their one time classmate and friend, others feel the penalty isn’t tough enough.
“It should have been much stiffer. There should have been more prison time,” said Tim Patterson, a senior and 1999 Jogues resident. “Luckily no one was killed, but he knew what he was doing.” Although there were no deaths or injuries caused by the fire, senior and ‘99 Jogues resident Jeff Melaragno felt the danger to everyone in the dorm was very real.
“I think he put everyone in jeopardy. There were so many false alarms throughout the year that I was considering whether or not I should get out of bed and go outside for ten minutes because I had an exam the next morning,” Melaragno said. “Then when the RA was going down the hall banging on doors telling people to get the hell out, I realized it was something that could be pretty major.”
Those who knew Schultz found it difficult to believe that his intentions were to hurt people.
“I do think it’s a fair punishment, but it’s harder for me to say it’s fair because it was someone I knew. It’s hard for me not to feel bad,” said senior Diana Kostolanksky, a ‘99 Jogues resident. “I don’t believe that he lit the bathroom on fire with the intentions of hurting people, but it was definitely stupid and something he needed to be punished for.” Senior Christine Kohlmeyer, who was a friend of Schultz, feels the prison term is necessary.
“I think its fair. Arson is a serious crime and we were fortunate no one was seriously injured, but i still feel he should be punished for what he did,” Kohlmeyer said. “I hope that he also get some kind of counseling or help, so that whatever issues he’s dealing, he can work through them.”
Schultz will serve six months of a five-year sentence and then spend three years on probation, according to University spokesman Doug Whiting. During his probation, Schultz must perform 200 hours of community service working for Habitat for Humanity and take three agreed that six months in jail is a fair punishment.
“I think its a harsh enough sentence. Knowing Gavin and his family, I know that any time he will spend in prison will have a huge effect on him,” Hayes said. “Of course I’m not one of those students that lives in Jogues that year. They might have a different take on it.”
The Connecticut Post reported that Superior Court Judge Eddie Rodriguez Jr. did not believe Schultz’s story about the fire being accidental and deemed Schultz deserved time behind bars. “I’ve decided prison is necessary because of the fire and the danger to so many,” Rodriguez told Schultz. “When you play with fire you get burned or others get burned or suffocate in their sleep in little dormitories.”
The Connecticut Post went on to state that Schultz told the Judge that he loved Fairfield University. “I put people in danger and should have taken them out of danger and pulled a fire extinguisher,” Schultz said. “But no one was killed in this case.” Schultz enrolled in the University of Delaware after he left Fairfield and was unable to be reached for comment.
Schultz claimed the fire was started accidentally after he flicked a lit cigarette at a garbage can but it fell short and into a pile of toilet paper. He also said that he had been studying for his philosophy exam for so long, his response system had shut down and he simply was unable to react to the fire.
Judge Rodriguez did not believe this testimony and even those sympathetic to Schultz find the explanation hard to swallow. “The part that makes it sketchy was the fact that he knew it was happening and went to bed. That what makes me doubt his complete innocence,” Kostolansky said. “I guess it’s possible that he didn’t realize how serious the fire got, but no, I don’t believe that he was just too tired to react.” Just eight months after the Jogues fire, three students died in a dormitory fire at Seton Hall University. Whiting said that the University hopes that the sentence that Schultz will serve is strict enough to help deter future criminal actions.
“The greatest value in what has happened, particularly through the courts, is that this serves notice to others that this kind of activity isn’t going to be tolerated,” Whitting said.
Patterson and Melaragno disagree with Whitting, each for different reasons. “I don’t think that any punishment can really deter this kind of crime,” Patterson said. “Either you want to cause harm to people or you don’t.”
“I don’t think the punishment is what deters people,” Melaragno said. “Jeopardizing lives should be what you’re scared of, not serving prison time.”