UK freshman from Elizabethtown charged in car fire after U of L game

jkegley@herald-leader.comApril 6, 2012 

The University of Kentucky freshman charged with arson in connection with a car that was overturned and set on fire Saturday night was identified using photos and videos posted on the Internet, officials said.

Daebrion T. Hopwood, 19, was charged by Lexington Division of Fire investigators Thursday evening. Investigators were looking for at least two others thought to have participated in the fire following UK men's basketball team's defeat of the University of Louisville in the NCAA Final Four.

The car, which appeared to be a silver Chevy Impala, was overturned by more than a dozen revelers on State Street about 10:30 p.m. March 31. Several people then passed around a bottle of lighter fluid, squirting it on the car before it was set on fire.

An anonymous tipster identified Hopwood to campus police, UK police chief Joe Monroe said at a news conference Friday. Detectives cross referenced the tip with videos and photos of the scene taken by police and media, as well as photos and videos uploaded to YouTube and social media Web sites.

Dozens of students and revelers filmed the car being burned on cell phones.

"In this day and age, social media is a great tool for law enforcement," Monroe said.

After campus police identified Hopwood, Lexington fire investigators interviewed him and charged him with second-degree arson, a felony.

According to court documents, Hopwood was recorded putting lighter fluid on a sweatshirt, "which was then ignited and thrown into the overturned vehicle."

Hopwood admitted to "actions that were observed on video" taken from the scene, court documents said. He was being held at the Fayette County Detention Center on a $2,500 bond.

Leading up to last week's game, police, university and city officials implored fans to behave. UK officials said students caught participating in illegal activity would be "dealt with appropriately."

"The matter involving the student in question has been referred to our Student Affairs office for an investigation," said Jay Blanton, executive director of UK's public relations and marketing department. As of Friday, Hopwood's status as a student was unchanged.

Hopwood is an undeclared major from Elizabethtown, a university spokeswoman said earlier Friday.

Fire investigator Matt Howard said Hopwood told investigators he didn't know others involved with the fire. He said he was on State Street with friends, but his friends were elsewhere when the fire was set, Howard said.

Investigators said they think the charge fits the crime.

"Anytime you're dealing with a fire like that, it could prove to be something very dangerous," Monroe said. "Public safety is at risk at that point."

Lexington fire battalion chief Ed Davis said the gas in the car's gas tank erupted, causing the fire to burn bigger and hotter momentarily while hundreds of students were standing around it.

"You can't just set something on fire that has an accelerant in it like that in the middle of a crowd. It is completely unsafe. We will aggressively prosecute anything like that," he said.

The car fire was one of 120 "nuisance fires" around campus Saturday and Monday nights, during and after UK's NCAA appearances. An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 fans spilled into the streets to celebrate following UK's Final Four and championship wins.

Peaceful crowds formed on South Limestone and at the intersection of Woodland and Euclid. The rowdiest crowd formed on State Street, where police in riot gear attempted to control crowds. Officers used pepper spray pellets to disperse crowds and make arrests after revelers began throwing bottles and rocks at them.

Police have said there were more than 75 arrests over the two days, mostly for disorderly conduct, criminal mischief and alcohol intoxication. Police also were investigating a reported sexual assault following Monday's game in the 100 block of State Street. No arrests have been made in that case.

On Monday, no car fires were reported because police banned parking on streets around State Street. But firefighters responded to two garage fires, which are under investigation.

Firefighters were stretched thin trying to respond to the fires, mostly burning couches and trash, during the tournament games.

"At one point in time, there was not one single fire station in Lexington that had a truck left inside of it. They weren't all actively on runs, but many of them were tied up," Davis said.

If there had been a fire at a home or a business elsewhere in town, Davis said it would have taken firefighters longer to respond than usual.

"That's part of the reason these nuisance fires are so serious," he said. "It's not just the fact that it's in the middle of that crowd, it's the fact that it's taking all of our resources away."

Josh Kegley: (859) 231-3197; Twitter: @HLPublicSafety

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