Revenge over pot deal beatdown called motive for last week’s frat fire
The so-called hero in last week’s dramatic cross-campus chase of an arson suspect may not be the wholesome, all-American boy he’s been made out to be. According to Chico police, Tom Rice, the Theta Chi brother who chased down suspected frat arsonist Andrew Ringel, may have known the man he was chasing through a drug deal they had ventured into for a pound of marijuana. When the deal went bad, Ringel told police, he was beaten bloody by Rice and his frat bros. The fire Ringel is accused of starting, police said, was in revenge for that beating.
The arson incident occurred Friday, Aug. 22, when Rice, returning home to his frat house at 630 West Fifth St., saw Ringel walking his bike down the house’s driveway, carrying a blue anti-freeze jug filled with gasoline. Witnesses later told police that Ringel had ignited a gas-soaked pillow, which he placed near the house. As Ringel got on his bike to escape, Rice gave chase, pursuing Ringel for six or seven blocks. With the help of a frat brother and several passersby, Rice eventually spotted Ringel and helped subdue him until university police arrived.
Ringel, 20, of Chico, was arrested and charged with arson of an inhabited structure, which carries a maximum sentence of eight years. Initially it was thought that Ringel could be a suspect in at least one other unsolved frat arson, as there has been a rash of them this year. But under questioning, Ringel told police that he and Rice, along with an unidentified third man, had had a falling out over a pound of marijuana they bought together sometime around the beginning of the year.
The deal apparently went south when the third party left town, possibly for Florida, Chico police Detective Sergeant Dave Barrow said. “He ran off with the bulk of the money,” Barrow said. “Apparently, Rice held [Ringel] accountable for the proceeds.”
Ringel told police that he had raised some money and attempted to pay Rice back. He apparently thought they had squared things up when, a few weeks ago, he accepted an invitation to come to the frat house and talk things over. It was then, Ringel told police, that he was severely beaten by Rice and some of the other frat members.
Chico police are investigating the claim, Barrow said, adding that Rice told them the fight was “mutual combat.” Police have so far not come up with any witnesses to corroborate Ringel’s story, but are looking into it.
No charges against Rice or his brothers have been filed. The investigation is ongoing, but without evidence from the alleged drug deal or witnesses to the alleged beating, police say further arrests are unlikely.
Theta Chi chapter president Keegan Warren said he couldn’t comment on either the fire or Ringel’s subsequent allegations, as he was out of town when the incident occurred. He said he had not heard about the alleged marijuana scheme. A message left for Rice through Warren was not returned by press time.
Chico frats are having one hell of a year, as this last fire was the fourth case of arson at a fraternity in as many months. On the morning of Aug. 16, the Alpha Gamma Rho house was destroyed by an arson fire that investigators speculate may have been started by revelers from a party that had just broken up nearby. In July, the Tau Gamma Theta house was torched, allegedly by a man who sources say had been kicked off the property the previous night over some comments his roommate made to a house guest. And in yet another incident, a building behind the Delta Psi Delta house was gutted when a nearby Dumpster was set aflame last May.