Police have arrested a suspect in connection with last week’s fire that killed three people in Bethel.
Police charged 35-year-old Adam Andrew with 11 felonies and six misdemeanors. Among the most serious charges are three counts of second-degree murder and one count of arson. Andrew has pleaded not guilty to his misdemeanor counts and has not yet entered a plea for the felonies. He is being held at the Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center.
Police say Andrew started the fire that began around 4 a.m. Friday. Three people in an apartment died after they were trapped inside, and an additional five people were injured. The fire destroyed two units in a larger 31-unit apartment complex and damaged six units in total. Andrew lives in a unit near the ones that were most severely burned.
Investigator Skyler Smith wrote in a report that Andrew set a fire in the walkway between the two apartments that suffered the most damage while he was blackout drunk. In his report, Smith provided one eyewitness account from a 16-year-old who said they saw Andrew start the fire. Other neighbors told Smith that they heard yelling outside before the fire started.
According to the report, officers first arrived on the scene to respond to reports of an intoxicated male lying outside. That was Andrew. When the first community service patrol officer arrived on the scene, he heard the “crackling of the fire” and reported it to the police dispatch. He told Smith that’s when Andrew got up and responded aggressively. Around the same time, other officers showed up and arrested Andrew.
According to Andrew’s own account told to Investigator Smith, Andrew began his night by finding a backpack with four bottles of vodka. He took two of them and started drinking them as he returned home. When he arrived at the apartments, he said that his wife would not let him in because he was too intoxicated. He went to a friend’s house on Akakeek Street and continued drinking.
At that point, Andrew told the officer that he blacked out. He remembers only arriving at the apartments and then waking up in police custody. During his interview with police, he told them that he did not set fire to the building. He also suggested that it could have been an electrical fire. He told Smith that he had issues with electricity in his own unit. The neighbors said that no sprinklers or fire alarms went off.
Andrew is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing on Aug. 23.
Family identified the three people killed in the fire as Elder Sophie Engebreth, 15-year-old Melissa Engebreth and 13-year-old Brianna Engebreth. Melissa and Brianna were Sophie’s granddaughters by birth and daughters by adoption. The Engebreth family has started a GoFundMe for funeral-related expenses.