Authorities say man acted alone in arson at McDonald’s in Sisters – The arrest of a student described as a gentle soul and a talented musician stuns the town of 1,500 — (The Oregonian)

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The Oregonian

Thursday, July 14, 2005

MATTHEW PREUSCH

SISTERS — A Bend man arrested Wednesday on suspicion of arson allegedly spread gasoline on the outside of the town’s new McDonald’s and then threw gas cans on the restaurant’s roof before setting it on fire, investigators said.

Authorities focused on Nicholas Andrew Patterson, 23, as a suspect based partly on unspecified evidence at the scene, said Deschutes County sheriff’s Capt. Tim Edwards. Patterson was arrested about 1 a.m. after leaving a house that investigators had staked out, he said.

Patterson acted alone, Edwards said, but he declined to offer any details about a possible motive. “All I can tell you is he is a local kid, not part of any organized group,” Edwards said.

The early Sunday fire gutted the inside of the unfinished restaurant along U.S. 20, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. It also shocked residents of the Western-theme tourist town, population 1,500, who for months have been debating the McDonald’s and chain restaurants in general.

Patterson, a 2000 graduate of Sisters High School, was arraigned in Deschutes County Circuit Court via video from the county jail, where he was being held on $100,000 bail. Eyes downcast, he sat quietly during the proceeding.

He faces two counts of arson, a felony that carries a maximum of 20 years in prison. His next court hearing is scheduled for July 20.

Steve Rodgers, developer of the building that houses the McDonald’s, said he didn’t know Patterson. “We know their family, but I didn’t know Nick,” he said. “There’s no reason for him to have a vendetta against me.”

Those who know Patterson said he’s a gentle soul and a talented musician. He was unemployed and a student at Central Oregon Community College, according to statements read in court.

His last job was as a lifeguard at Broken Top, a private residential community in Bend. His mother, who lives in Washington state, sends him money to cover his living expenses, according to court statements.

After the city approved the McDonald’s this year, some residents pushed for a ban on new “formula food” restaurants, but the City Council rejected the proposal last month. Now a group of residents is trying to get a similar ban on the November ballot.

Local supporters of the fast food ban said Patterson wasn’t active in their campaigns, and all sides condemned the property damage.

“Everybody knows Nick,” said Winfield Durham, owner of Sisters Coffee Co. and a friend of Patterson’s. “It’s a small town.”

“Many people, including myself, were very angry when this (fire) happened, so to have Nick implicated in it is just devastating,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”

Patterson suffered from depression and took medication to control it, Durham said.

The fire and arrest were the latest blows to Sisters, which this month mourned two prominent residents, Bill and Jan Reed, died in a plane crash in the San Juan Islands.

“With all the other tragedies that have happened around here, we’re pretty upset,” Durham said.

Matthew Preusch: 541-382-2006; preusch@bendbroadband.com