AUSTIN COUNTY, Texas (FOX 26) - The Austin County District Attorney says he is trying to solve an ongoing crime problem after a teen who ran away from a local juvenile treatment center intentionally burned a home to the ground.
Firefighters responded to the fire at a home on Track Road in New Ulm Thursday morning. The home was fully engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, according to New Ulm Volunteer Fire Chief Curtis Harden.
The home’s property is adjacent to that of Five Oaks Achievement Center where teen runaways are a regular problem, according to local officials and neighbors. Harden says the suspected arsonist in the house fire is a 15-year-old runaway from Five Oaks.
“He found some gas and lighter fluid here at the residence, and that’s what he used to start the fire,” said Harden. “When we arrived he had made himself comfortable...found a chair, took his shoes off and decided to sit back and watch the show.”
The boy was arrested without incident and charged with arson and burglary of a habitation with intent to commit a felony, according to the Austin County Sheriff.
The owners of the recently built house were not at home at the time of the fire, and no one was hurt, but the house was burned to the ground, said Harden.
“The homeowners are extremely frustrated,” said Harden.
Since December law enforcement officers have detained 11 runaways from Five Oaks, according to District Attorney Travis Koehn.
“Five Oaks has been a concern to us for a long time because of the folks that are there and how they’ve been treated and how they can wreak havoc in the community,” said Koehn. “We have contacted the State Senator’s office—Lois Kolkhorst. The sheriff and I have sent a letter to her, encouraging her to look at the licensing aspect of this place to see if there needs to be some sort of modification or revocation of their license.”
Neighbors say the problems with runaways from Five Oaks have been ongoing for years.
“They come and knock on the door or they’ll come up to sheds and steal things,” said Jessica Jennings who lives a quarter mile from Five Oaks. “They’ve taken very strange things like diesel or tools.”
Five Oaks declined FOX 26’s request for an interview. The residential treatment center has been licensed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. The center is staffed 24 hours a day, including night security which monitors resident every 15 minutes, according to its website. Five Oaks’ mission is to provide treatment programs to young people with special needs, according to its website.
Correction: Five Oaks is now licensed through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, according to Tejal Patel, media relations specialist with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. A new law that went into effect September 1, 2017, transferred most of Texas’ child care licensing out of the hands of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.