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Arsonist doesn’t show for court, claims hospitalization

Arsonist doesn’t show for court, claims hospitalization

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By Daniel Pepper

Staff Writer

An Illinois man scheduled for sentencing on a pair of Memorial Day weekend arsons in Saugatuck Township didn’t show up in court and through his lawyer claimed to be hospitalized.

Rolf Dieter Schmidt, 68, of Seneca, Ill., was scheduled for a sentencing hearing Friday, Jan. 25, before Judge Roberts S. Kengis in Allegan County Circuit Court.

Schmidt’s lawyer, Bradley Johnson, said his client had called him Thursday, Jan. 24, and said he was in a hospital in Illinois.

“He’s going through testing as we speak,” Johnson said. “He indicated he’d give me records on that as soon as possible.”

Schmidt, the lawyer said, had told him he was suffering from anxiety and/or a possible heart attack.

Assistant Allegan County prosecutor Steven Lanting said, “This is certainly a last minute issue and we had victims come here.

“We’d ask for a bench warrant.”

Kengis ruled he’d give Schmidt time to show the court he’d actually been where he said he was.

“The court will issue a bench warrant Monday at 4 p.m. unless I receive documents that show Mr. Schmidt had a significant health issue,” Kengis said.

Due to the closure of the Allegan County Courthouse Monday, Jan. 28, and Tuesday, Jan. 29, information on the status of the proof, the bench warrant or a future court hearing in the case was unavailable at press time.

Schmidt pleaded no contest Sept. 24 to one count of aggravated stalking and one count of arson. Schmidt was allowed to plead no contest rather than guilty for the purposes of avoiding civil liability.

The victims were Schmidt’s former girlfriend and her new boyfriend.

Kengis used a police report to find Schmidt guilty, which included evidence he’d been in the area at the time of the fire from witnesses and his cell phone. He’d also made phone calls to the victim’s employer claiming to be an Illinois police officer and saying she was a drug dealer.

The crimes happened Memorial Day weekend in 2016 on Lakeshore Drive in Saugatuck Township.

Schmidt was charged in one case with one count of second degree arson and one count of malicious destruction of property $1,000 to $20,000. In the second case, he was charged with one count of third degree arson and two counts of aggravated stalking.

Schmidt was arrested in November 2017 and charged with the crimes after being brought to Michigan from Illinois. He remains free on bond.

The fire Schmidt admitted to happened May 27, 2016 and quickly extinguished by Saugatuck Township Fire District firefighters and those from adjoining communities arriving under mutual aid.

While fighting that fire, one of the responders stepped on a white tail fawn, hiding near some woods, which hadn’t fled from all the activity of fire and firefighters, The Commercial Record reported at the time.

The other fire was reported Sunday, May 30, 2016, at a home almost next door to the barn where a person was seen throwing accelerant onto on to the home. The homeowner was able to slow the fire before firefighters arrived.

Contact Dan Pepper at dpepper@allegannews.com or at (269) 673-5534.