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Posted on Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 11:44 a.m.

Man charged with arson for setting construction crane on fire

By John Counts


James McPherson

Courtesy of Washtenaw County Jail

A 30-year-old Ypsilanti man who police say set a construction crane on fire was charged Friday with arson in the 14A-1 District Court.

James Henry McPherson was arraigned on counts of arson, third-degree arson of property more than $20,000 and malicious destruction of property between $1,000 and $20,000.

Magistrate Elisha Fink freed McPherson on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond and appointed him a public defender.

McPherson said he is homeless and was using his parents' Ypsilanti address for mail. He told Fink he has no job and no source of income.

"I'm in between jobs right now," he said. "I don't have money for an attorney. I'm struggling with drugs and alcohol."

Fink said McPherson had pervious convictions related to drunken driving and marijuana use.

McPherson is accused of sneaking onto the site where crews are rebuilding the Ford Boulevard bridge in Ypsilanti Township and somehow popping open the fuel compartment on the crane and setting it ablaze, said Sgt. Geoff Fox of the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.

McPherson is also accused of slashing tires on several vehicles at the site.

This isn't the first time the construction site has been vandalized since the project started in April, but all the counts stem from Wednesday night's incident.

Firefighters arriving at the scene around 9 p.m. said flames from the crane fire reached 20 feet into the sky.

Police located McPherson a short time later as he walked down East Michigan Avenue near the work site.

"He was highly intoxicated," Fox said.

Investigators were not immediately sure what the motivation was to light the crane on fire beyond vandalism, Fox said.

The crane was destroyed. Officials have said it may have cost about $1 million when new, but weren't sure what it was worth now.

The crane was one of two at the site of the Ford Boulevard bridge replacement project being used to prepare the new bridge deck for concrete, according to officials with the Washtenaw County Road Commission. Work has been halted until the contractor, Davis Construction, can find a new crane to rent.

The work site is not fenced, according to officials.

The $2.6 million project was slated to be finished at the end of August.

Arson and third-degree arson are both felonies punishable by up to 10 years in prison and fines. Malicious destruction of property from $1,000 to $20,000 is punishable by up to five years in prison.

John Counts covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Mon, Aug 19, 2013 : 5:34 a.m.

This dude can Never Pay Restitution. We're looking at a Half-Million Dollars Restitution for a Druggie, Alcoholic , Between Jobs" (his words) dude. Can the Legislature Correct this?'


Mon, Aug 19, 2013 : 12:58 a.m.

He should receive an extra year as punishment just for making the completion of the bridge late. And I'm being extra nice in saying that 's all he gets for making it late.


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 10:06 p.m.

The big reason we spend billions on prison is too many prisoners who did things we don't like, rather than things that made us afraid.


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 7:54 p.m.

I'm not a rocket scientist or anything, however; if the engine compartment was set on fire and the fuel system (diesel fuel) burned. and the crane is made from steel- could you just replace the engine and fuel tanks along with the cables (that is done on a regular basis), sounds like $40,000 worth of damage. Now could the current contractor be behind in time assessment and in of a way to delay construction without getting fined?


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 7:56 p.m. need of a way to delay construction without getting fined?


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 3:34 p.m.

First, if this man is homeless, in between jobs, has drug and alcohol addictions, where did he come up with the $5,000 for his PR bond? I know you can't get blood out of a turnip, but he should be charged with repaying the damages that he caused (the cost of a new or used crane), the slashed tires, etc. Now the neighboring residents will probably have to wait yet another 2-3 months before the bridge is done! Not only an inconvenience to resident's, but also a lack of business for many business's around the area. So sad...


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

"Firefighters arriving at the scene around 9 p.m. said flames from the crane fire reached 20 feet into the sky." – If firefighters actually said that, then those who did need to look up what "sky" means (it's a bit higher than 20 feet). As for the rest, it looks like up to 20 years in prison may be young Mr. McPherson's best prospect: at least he'll get free meals and housing and might more readily obtain treatment for his addictions.


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 1:04 p.m.

This guy seems to have decided that because he is angry he can slash tires and burn things. What is going to happen next time when he torches something somebody is sleeping in or goes after a person? $5,000 bond is a bad joke as far as the danger this guy is to society.

Widow Wadman

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 4:27 a.m.

Is he the suspect because he was drunk and nearby? I suppose evidence of guilt will come out in court.


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 4:01 a.m.

Sometimes people who smile inappropriately have psychological problems. Or maybe just intoxicated. If he did have psychological problems, that would explain his vandalising the site over time. Also, the mentally ill are often homeless, though there are many other reasons to be homeless (economic, etc). I don't think this photo necessarily indicates that he was pleased about what he'd done, etc. Assuming the picture was from his arrest (and not from a facebook page prior to the incident, etc). It just seemed like he was not tuned in to the seriousness of what he had done. It's very sad if that is the case. People lose health coverage and then cannot manage mental health issues.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 8:50 p.m.

Might be a waste of time, just a suggestio . The guy had been vandalizing the Sitefor qui teawhile . If I was the police i would start investigating this further. Was there any disgruntled companies because they did not win the bid? This guy for more than kicks was trying to slow down the process.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 8:48 p.m.

This guy seems to be headed to being a total drag upon society, so I don't care about him. How much more will his idiocy cost us and how much longer will it delay the completion of the project?


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

He's sick--addiction is an illness.


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 9:48 a.m.

Bear, I'm just really tired of having to pay for the poor decisions of others. I believe in personal responsibility. Too many show very little.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 9:26 p.m.

It has been said that you can judge a society by how they treat the least of their members, not the best. By that standard, you fail miserably.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 8:40 p.m.

Of course he's going to say he's homeless and between jobs. He got caught and judging from the picture very proud of what he done. The pr bond is a disgrace to the criminal justice system, let's think about this supposedly no job, no home, no thing and you let him walk on a pr bond? Crane probably in fair market 250000 dollars....... I have a feeling this guy will get 2 years probation.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 7:51 p.m.

It should also be noted that, in the event of conviction, state law mandates that the judge order him to pay restitution. This is effected by assigning his collection case to a $60,000 a year plus benefits Probation Officer.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 9:19 p.m.

So, if this guy doesn't get the probation for restitution, is this $60,000 (where do you come up with this figure?) probation officer going to make any LESS money? Your statement is a joke, surely.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 8:16 p.m.

Nope. The court will hold a probation file open for restitution only if there's reason to believe that the defendant will be able to pay it. If not, they'll close the probation once the other court conditions have been met. From MCLA 769.1a: "The court may revoke probation or impose imprisonment . . . if the defendant fails to comply with the order and if the defendant has not made a good faith effort to comply with the order. In determining whether to revoke probation . . ., the court or parole board shall consider the defendant's employment status, earning ability, and financial resources, the willfulness of the defendant's failure to pay, and any other special circumstances that may have a bearing on the defendant's ability to pay." The restitution order remains enforceable by civil action even if probation is closed.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 7:44 p.m.

I know this isn't right but he actually looks to me like he's proud of himself. If I've violated the comment rules I'll understand.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 8:07 p.m.

He was highly intoxicated, according to the report. Sobriety changes attitudes.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 7:51 p.m.

Definitely has a smirk.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 7:39 p.m.

He's 30?!?!?!


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 7:03 p.m.

He would have been a perfect candidate for Camp Take Notice.

Rod Johnson

Mon, Aug 19, 2013 : 4:25 a.m.

The thing is, ideally, jokes are funny.


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 10:39 a.m. make a joke and the overly sensitive, politically correct folks take offensive. I voted you with a thumbs up just because of the uptight people.


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 10:36 a.m.

Careful guys, he has a gun!

Homeland Conspiracy

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 4:52 a.m.

Let's hope you never have to go homeless...


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 10:45 p.m.

So criticizing the homeless is bigotry?


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 9:17 p.m.

Maybe you should try to be homeless and try to stay safe on the streets before you open your mouth and stick your foot in it. Irresponsible, bigoted comment!


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 6:16 p.m.

No money. No job. No home. So you set things on fire? Well, if he's in jail, he'll have housing, medical care and 3 meals per day on the taxpayer's dime. Not a bad deal given his situation. Maybe that's the motivation for the arson.

The Picker

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 12:03 p.m.

He was released !


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 5:49 p.m.

I like how the first few comments of so many stories on are people correcting typos, etc. I often note others myself but don't usually comment about them. Seriously, some more editorial oversight / proofreading is very much needed on this website. It's ridiculous the amount of small typographical errors that get posted as news stories and then corrected by the readers.

John Counts

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 1:53 a.m.

Typo fixed. Thanks!


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 5:45 p.m.

"Malicious destruction of property from $1,000 to $20,000 is publishable. . . " Useful information for desperate academics.

John Counts

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 1:52 a.m.

Typo fixed. Thanks.

Tom Teague

Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 1:26 a.m.

Well played halflight.


Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 5:20 p.m.

I like that word, pervious!


Sun, Aug 18, 2013 : 5:35 p.m.

Other typos fixed, but yet one remains...

Aces Full

Sat, Aug 17, 2013 : 3:59 p.m.

A $5000 P.R. bond? What a joke. The man admitted he is a homeless addict. At least holding him in custody can force him to start treatment...good luck getting him back to court now that he's out and about again. SMH...