Student charged in burning is released

May 02, 2002|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A South Carroll High School junior was in court yesterday on serious adult charges as the result of a prank - flicking a cigarette lighter - that hospitalized a classmate with second-degree burns, his defense attorney said yesterday.

Joseph Richard Lee Schroen, 16, of the 1100 block of Longbow Road, Mount Airy, was released after spending Tuesday night at the Carroll County Detention Center. He is charged on five counts, including first-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and possession of a deadly weapon - the lighter.

After a bail hearing in District Court, Judge Marc G. Rasinsky allowed Schroen's family to post 10 percent rather than a full $20,000 bail, with the condition that the youth stay away from Ryan Robert Branning, 17.

Witnesses said the injury occurred after Branning, who was working underneath a van on a lift in the auto service technician classroom, said he had spilled gasoline on his shirt and not to light him on fire, according to charging documents.

But another student walked up and flicked a lighter, which at first did not ignite, then tried again and put the flame to Branning's chest, which erupted in flames, according to the charging documents. Branning fell to the floor, injuring his shoulder. The fire on his shirt was extinguished quickly by an instructor and another student.

Branning, 17, of the 7200 block of Patton Drive, Woodbine, was flown Tuesday afternoon to Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, where he was in fair condition yesterday.

"Joey and his family are very concerned about Ryan's well-being and for his family," Schroen's attorney, Michael A. Mastracci, said after yesterday's hearing. "I'm not making light of it, [but] it was more in line with a bad prank, or something like that at the worst-case scenario, that went too far. They had been friends, there was no ill will, bad things going on, between these two boys."

Schroen moved with his parents to Mount Airy about a year ago, works more than 30 hours a week, and at school is "courteous and cooperative," the lawyer said in court, reading from a report card.

"When it's all said and done, it's probably going to be a reckless endangerment situation, a gross negligence situation," Mastracci told the judge, saying he probably will seek to have the case moved to Juvenile Court. "This young man did not intend to put someone on fire and cause serious injury."

But Assistant State's Attorney Diane Wellbrook asked that bail remain at the full $20,000 saying, "The facts of this case are horrendous." Schroen has no criminal record, she agreed, but "he certainly started out with a bang."

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