Trial set in suit over blaze blamed on ghost hunters

FORT SMITH -- A trial date has been set for late next year in the lawsuit that claims the federal government was responsible for Kentucky National Guard soldiers burning 111 buildings at Chaffee Crossing while ghost hunting in 2011.


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The bench trial before U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes III was scheduled Tuesday for Oct. 24. The case is Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority v. United States of America.

The redevelopment authority wants the government to pay $650,000 for the destruction, cleanup and remediation of the World War II-era hospital complex.

The lawsuit was filed in September after the U.S. Army Claims Service rejected a claim for the damages.

The redevelopment authority is a public trust charged with redeveloping 7,000 acres of former Fort Chaffee land for civilian use. The hospital complex is part of that land.

The complex of one-story wooden buildings covering several acres burned on Aug. 3, 2011.

The authority claims in the lawsuit that members of the 138th Fires Brigade of the Kentucky National Guard who were training at the Fort Chaffee Joint Maneuver Training Center sneaked onto the hospital complex grounds, along with other unidentified federal employees, looking for ghosts.

A 2010 episode of Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel had featured ghost hunters looking for evidence of hauntings in the 70-year-old hospital complex.

While touring the complex, the lawsuit said, one or more of the Guard members threw lit cigarettes onto the tinder-dry grass, which started a fire that destroyed the complex.

The redevelopment authority said the Guard members were employed by or acting on behalf of the United States.

"The USA is responsible for the negligent acts of its employees and is the proper party defendant pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act and Arkansas laws," the suit says.

Last month, the government, represented by the U.S. attorney's office for western Arkansas, asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, denying the government was responsible for the fire and resulting damage.

The government denied that the Kentucky Guard members were federal employees. Even if they were, the government argued, they were not acting in the line of duty and their conduct would have been outside the scope of their employment.

"The alleged damages were caused solely by the acts or omissions of other parties, persons, or entities, their servants, agents, representatives, or employees, none of whom are agencies or employees of the United States for whom the United States has any liability pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act," the government stated.

State Desk on 12/23/2015

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