The suspect accused of setting a bridge ablaze on Star Lake has been charged with three felony counts.
Ryan Curtis Johnson, 42, appeared Sept. 9, in Otter Tail County District Court. The three counts are arson; possessing ammunition or a firearm after being convicted of a violent crime; and possessing, making, transporting or storing an explosive or incendiary device.
He is being held on a $200,000 bond at the Otter Tail County Jail.
Johnson was arrested after the Otter Tail County Sheriff’s Office received a report of arson around 12:10 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 6 at a mostly wooden bridge over a water way between the main Star Lake, and the West Arm. The Dent Volunteer Fire Department were on the scene from shortly after midnight to the early morning hours, extinguishing the bridge fire.
The condition of the bridge is awaiting a complete review by a structural engineer, reported Otter Tail County Highway Engineer Chuck Grotte. Though it is too early to confirm the extent of the damages, Grotte said the bridge sustained extensive charring on the wood planks and beams. If complete replacement is necessary, it could cost between $800,000 and $1.2 million, said Grotte.
The arson and explosive charges against Johnson carry penalties of ten years in prison, $20,000 fine, or both. The other charges could carry 15 years in prison and up to $30,000 in fines.
By numerous reports since the bridge fire, also confirmed in the court documents, the suspect had been acting erratically in recent weeks, perhaps longer.
He was going though a divorce, and his dog was killed by a vehicle on Highway 41 days before the bridge fire. He was upset by the dog’s death, which he expressed in Facebook posts. Several people interviewed by investigators reported that Johnson was behaving erratically.
Johnson was reportedly kicked out of Bell’s Resort and restaurant for his conduct. He had driven in circles in the Bell parking lot, and the track marks were still visible in the lot a week later.
The suspect was a seasonal resident and owns property near the bridge, south of Bell’s Resort on County Road 41.