Sep. 28—WATERVILLE — A man is accused of intentionally setting fire to the Waterville home he was renovating in order to collect insurance money.
Kurtis Ryan Couch, 39, was charged with felony counts of arson Monday in Le Sueur County District Court.
According to the court complaint:
Firefighters responded to a fire at 120 Sixth St. S. on July 19. The house had extensive damage on the main level and minor damage in the basement.
Couch told Le Sueur County sheriff's investigator Scott O'Brien his house had been damaged in a storm in 2017. He said he was living in it part time while doing repairs, which were not going well.
Couch said he had been outside with his dogs for about 30 minutes when he heard a bang, heard smoke detectors, then saw smoke. He said he walked to a gas station and asked someone to call 911.
State Fire Marshal's Office investigator Ron Rahman found evidence a flammable liquid had been poured down the stairs. The investigator smelled diesel fuel or lighter fluid.
Surveillance video contradicted Couch's statements to the county investigator. A camera at a business across the street from Couch's house shows him leave the house 2 minutes before smoke becomes visible. A camera at the gas station shows Couch holding a cellphone in his hand after he said he went there to find someone to call 911.
O'Brien seized the phone and found Couch took photos of his home and its contents the morning of the fire. O'Brien suspected the photographs were for an insurance claim.
An investigator for Couch's insurance company also found evidence a flammable liquid had been poured on the floor. Both Rahman and the insurance investigation ruled out other prospective ignition sources.