Early Saturday around 2:30 a.m., the Cookeville Fire Department responded to a house engulfed in an enormous blaze following a Tennessee Tech University party. The house proved to be that of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and despite the first responders’ excellent reaction times, they could not salvage it. Instead, a foundation and charred remains now stand in the place where the 80-year-old Tennessee Delta chapter once loomed.
Ironically enough, Friday evening was already supposed to mark the SAEs’ last night in the house. The next morning, a ribbon cutting ceremony was scheduled to commemorate their new 5,100 square foot mansion, which they’ve been touting on their website and Facebook page for some time now. Pretty solid house, if you ask me. I’ve included the schematics for you engineer types, so you can get a real feel for the layout.
Naturally, I’d be thrilled to move into this place had my old house burned to the ground–but not so fast. Investigators called the fire incident suspicious yesterday. Right now, they are trying to get to the bottom of what happened by interviewing partygoers and brothers alike.
“We don’t have a suspect at this time,” Major Nathan Honeycutt of the Cookeville Police Department said. “We have not absolutely ruled it an arson, but it is suspicious to us, and it was suspicious to the fire department, so we’re going to investigate that accordingly.”
“My understanding was that was their last night in the house,” Honeycutt said. “We had gotten an earlier call about some vandalism, and then of course we got the call about the fire. I think it was obvious to everybody there that it didn’t start on its own.” Honeycutt said investigators have a lot of work ahead of them.
“There was a party going on, and there were a lot of people there,” he said. “There are a lot of people for us to interview to try to find out what witnesses can tell us about how this fire got started. If we can determine it was an arson, obviously we’re going to do everything we can to charge somebody accordingly.”
Admittedly, upon first learning of the house’s destruction and then discovering the brothers were set to inhabit a beautiful new one right around the corner, my first inkling shouted, “Insurance fraud!”
Cookeville Fire Chief, Roger Fuqua, might have also had the same thought:
“When I got there it was burning so hot you could just barely walk in front of it across the street on the sidewalk,” he said.
“We don’t have many like that. Of course, our response time is so quick and there’s such a dense population here in town that usually somebody spots it before it gets that far along. But occasionally in the early morning hours like that, we’ll get one.”
Not sure about you, but the “We don’t have many like that” statement seems to me that this might not be one of the most convenient coincidences, ever for the Cookeville Regional Medical Center, who owns the now dilapidated property and has plans to put a parking lot in its place.
At least you don’t have to pay for demolition now, am I right?!
The property was valued at $179,900 according to a police report, and at this time, all plans for it moving forward are halted in lieu of the ongoing investigation.
I’m not saying the SAEs maybe did this, say, after some drunken prodding from an alumnus associated with the hospital and the promise of some kind of kickback, but then again, I’m not saying they didn’t either.
To end on a positive note, no one was injured in the fire.
We’ll keep you guys posted with any updates.