- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

The house fire in College Park that killed a University of Maryland student and severely injured another is being investigated as an arson, fire officials said yesterday.

Mark Brady, spokesman for the Prince George’s County fire department, said investigators ruled the fire an arson after discovering a gas can on the patio, then failing to find anyone to explain why it was there.

The pre-dawn fire April 30 killed Michael Anthony Scrocca, 22, of Somerville, N.J., and critically injured Stephen “Tex” Aarons, 21. Four other residents inside the off-campus house were not injured. Another roommate was not home at the time of the fire.

Mr. Brady also said an accelerant-sniffing dog detected several hot spots on the porch, where the fire started.

County homicide detectives now will lead a joint investigation with the fire department.

“You’re now dealing with the crimes of homicide and arson as well as other additional charges,” he said. “Their focus will now be to identify the person responsible for this crime.”

Firefighters arrived at the house, in the 7500 block of Princeton Avenue, to find Mr. Scrocca unconscious and not breathing in a second-floor rear bedroom. He died a short time later at Prince George’s Hospital Center.

Mr. Aarons was taken to Washington Hospital Center with first- and second-degree burns over at least 18 percent of his body. He also broke a foot when he jumped from a second-story window and landed on a car.

Mr. Aarons had surgery Wednesday morning, and doctors determined he will not need skin grafting for the burns, according to the university’s student newspaper, the Diamondback.

Mr. Brady said investigators will interview Mr. Aarons when his condition improves.

Investigators know there was a party at the house Friday night and early Saturday morning and have talked with neighbors, the house’s owner and students who attended the party. But they have no suspect or explanation for the gas can.

Mr. Brady told Mr. Scrocca’s parents about the arson ruling yesterday afternoon, shortly after a memorial service at the campus chapel. The service was attended by about 200 of Mr. Scrocca’s friends from campus and his hometown.

“He made everyone’s lives happier and easier just by being himself,” said Dave Collins, who grew up with Mr. Scrocca and attended school with him.

Mr. Scrocca was scheduled to graduate this month with a degree in finance. He was a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity, whose members lined the front rows of the chapel during the service.

Mr. Scrocca’s father, Anthony, was amazed at the number of close friends his son had made during his time in college.

“I don’t know how a 22-year-old can have such an effect on so many people,” he said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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