DeKALB – A student at Northern Illinois University is facing aggravated arson charges after police say he intentionally set a fire in his room inside Stevenson Hall to cover up the smell of burnt marijuana.
Paul L. Collins, 21, of the 200 block of Troy Court, Romeoville is charged with aggravated arson, resisting a police officer, unlawful possession of drug paraphernalia and tampering with a fire safety system. If convicted of the most serious crime, aggravated arson, he faces a minimum mandatory jail sentence of six years or up to 30 years in jail and $25,000 in fines.
Collins appeared before DeKalb County Circuit Court Judge Ronald Matekaitis Saturday morning at the DeKalb County courthouse in Sycamore. The DeKalb County State's Attorney's office requested $50,000 bond, and Matekaitis was released on his signature, said DeKalb County State's Attorney Rick Amato.
According to court records and Northern Illinois University police reports, Collins' admitted to setting an intentional fire in his fifth floor dormitory room in tower B of Stevenson Hall on NIU campus. When approached by an NIU police officer about the incident on Friday, he attempted to flee on foot after being ordered to remain, records show.
On Friday, Collins admitted that on Jan. 17, he returned to his room around 3:30 a.m. and thought his room smelled like burnt marijuana, records show. According to NIU’s website, no person can possess or use recreational marijuana on campus property, including at any NIU-affiliated events that are held off-campus, because federal law supersedes any state law for use and possession.
Collins covered the smoke alarm device in his room which caused it to malfunction temporarily, records show, and then he knowingly set fire to a book while in his room in order to mask the smell.
The book quickly caught fire and damaged the air conditioning unit in his room, which is attached to the wall and window screen.
Collins then admitted to taking the burning book to the elevator lobby on the fifth floor of Stevenson Hall Tower B in order to attempt to put out the fire using water from a nearby water fountain, records show.
He then placed the book into a trash can next to the water fountain, which caused damage to the trash can, records show.