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Court reduces charges in burning bed case

A Superior man accused of setting fire to the bed where his girlfriend was sleeping will no longer face a felony arson charge in Douglas County Court.

A Superior man accused of setting fire to the bed where his girlfriend was sleeping will no longer face a felony arson charge in Douglas County Court.

The charge against James Leo Olson, 50, was amended to a misdemeanor charge of negligent handling of burning material Tuesday after the alleged victim, Lynn Bergson, failed to appear in court to testify during the third preliminary hearing set for the case.

Bergson failed to appear at the initial preliminary hearing on June 27. At the second hearing July 9, Olson did not appear and a warrant was ordered for his arrest. The warrant was never issued because Olson appeared later that morning.

Police reports indicate Olson, who is blind, started a mattress on fire while Bergson was sleeping on it. The incident occurred in their apartment at 1116 Hughitt Ave. in the early morning hours of June 11.

The two had been out drinking prior to the incident and got into an argument when she wanted to go to bed and he wanted to stay up, according to reports and the criminal complaint.

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"(Olson) never claimed it was an argument, he only claimed it was a loving exchange," Officer Thor Trone of the Superior Police Department testified during the first preliminary hearing.

Bergson fell asleep and woke to Olson saying that he lit the end of the bed on fire, the complaint states. It was burning, she told officers, but she was unable to put the flames out.

Superior firefighters were called to the apartment at 2:54 a.m. and they cleared the scene at 4:17 a.m., according to Superior Fire Department records. An estimated $1,000 of structure damage and $1,500 in personal property damage were reported.

When police questioned Olson, he said he was smoking on the bed and it somehow started on fire.

"I don't believe the fire was caused by smoking," testified Trone, an arson investigator for the Superior Police Department for four years.

While a cigarette in bed can cause that kind of damage, he said, there had not been enough time for one to have caused a sustained burn.

When Trone and Officer Adam Poskozim brought Olson in for questioning, he changed his story.

"After the issue was pressed, that's when he said he was lying down trying to light a cigarette," Trone testified.

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Olson told the officers he has been smoking for 30 years and has been blind for 24 years. He said that Bergson was very drunk that night but he was not, the complaint stated. He told Investigator Adam Poskozim that he had never had any other fires.

The Superior man also faces a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, a felony bail jumping charge and an ordinance violation of possession of marijuana. His next court appearance is set for Aug. 20.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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