A fire at the Cedar Park Apartments is being investigated as a case of suspected aggravated arson. Firefighters were dispatched to 3910 Cedar Park Place, Apartment 8A, at 9:23 p.m. Sunday. Suspect Michael Paul Leeper, 27, was located and arrested. He was booked into the Barton County Detention Center early Monday on a charge of aggravated arson, with bond set at $100,000.
The Kansas Fire Marshal’s Office was in Great Bend on Monday to investigate.
Lt. Jason Settle with the Great Bend Police Department was at the scene Monday morning. He confirmed that the fire was reported by the occupant of Apartment 8A, who smelled smoke. The actual fire was in Apartment 8B.
No one was injured during the incident, according to Deputy Chief Brent Smith with the Great Bend Fire Department.
Smith said the initial call was a report of smoke coming from a water heater. He also issued a statement Monday afternoon:
“Crews arrived on scene to find light smoke coming from a utility closet. While crews were looking for the source of the smoke, crews checked the adjoining apartment to find heavy smoke and heat coming from the apartment. Crews were informed that the house might be occupied and an interior search was performed. During the search for occupants, a fire was found in the bedroom and extinguished. The search revealed that the apartment was found to be unoccupied.”
Noting that the fire was investigated by the Great Bend Fire Department, Great Bend Police Department and Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office, Smith added, “The cause of the fire has been determined as incendiary in nature.”
The only damage visible Monday from outside the apartments in the front were the melted blinds in a window. Smith said there was extensive damage from smoke and heat. “(The occupant) won’t be able to live here for awhile,” he said.
The occupant of 8B, Ashley Wilburn, waited outside with a small dog and with family and friends as they waited for officials to clear the scene. She declined to be interviewed by the Great Bend Tribune.
Police Chief Steve Haulmark issued a press release Monday afternoon, noting that when the Great Bend firefighters arrived at Apartment 8A they discovered the smoke was entering the apartment from 8B from a conjoined wall. Firefighters reported signs of arson inside 8B.
“An officer on scene advised upon his arrival, he observed an individual walking away from the complex,” Haulmark stated. That individual, identified as Leeper, was located at a Great Bend residence and detained as the investigation progressed.
“During the investigation, officers and firefighters located a broken glass and blood throughout the scene,” according to the report. “When officers located Leeper, he had injuries to his hands and arms, consistent with burns and cuts.” He was treated for injuries to his hands and arms.
Haulmark confirmed that Leeper is on parole, apparently knew the occupant of Apartment 8B, and was the subject of multiple 911 calls leading up to the fire. “We dealt with him a couple of times this weekend,” Haulmark said.
According to the GBPD's Daily Incident Log, police received a report on Friday afternoon that Leeper had allegedly stolen meat from Walmart. On Saturday, he was arrested at 3:34 a.m. at the Cedar Park address, Apartment 8B, after the resident reported he criminally damaged her front door. He was booked on charges of assault on a law enforcement officer and criminal trespass. He was released after posting a $1,000 surety bond through Ace Bail Bonds. At 8:29 p.m., he called to request a civil standby at apartment 8B.
Leeper is on parole in Barton County for a 2016 offense of aggravated indecent liberties with a child, involving a 13-year-old victim in Newton.
If anyone has any information regarding this or any other investigation, they are encouraged to contact the Great Bend Police Department at 620-793-4120 or Crime Stoppers of Barton County and Great Bend at 620-792-1300 or online at p3tips.com.
This updates a story published earlier in the day on April 3, 2023.