LAKE ANDES — A Chamberlain man has pleaded guilty to two counts related to the December 2021 fire that destroyed a women’s resource center in Lake Andes.
Donovan Sully, 27, appeared in the Charles Mix County Courthouse on Monday. As part of a settlement, he pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree arson and one count of reckless fire or explosion.
Both are a Class 4 felony, with each count carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $30,000 fine.
In exchange for the guilty pleas, the prosecution dropped other charges. Sully had previously faced one count of intentional property damage of $5,000 to $100,000 and two other counts of reckless fire or explosion.
Judge Bruce Anderson sentenced July 8 in Lake Andes and ordered a pre-sentence hearing.
Representing the prosecution were Charles Mix County State’s Attorney Steve Cotton and Assistant State’s Attorney Craig Parkhurst. Armor’s attorney, Brad Kerner, served as the court-appointed defense attorney.
Prior to Monday’s court proceedings, Sully underwent a mental evaluation at the Human Services Center in Yankton. The assessment was to determine whether the accused was competent on all relevant dates and whether he was of sound mind at the date and time of the alleged incidents giving rise to the charges against him.
Additionally, Dr. Matthew Christiansen of Mitchell conducted an assessment to determine if the defendant was able to understand the nature and consequences of the lawsuits against him and could adequately assist in his defense.
Sully was charged with allegedly starting several fires on December 20 around Lake Andes. A fire reportedly destroyed the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center at 809 High Street.
The resource center included the pantry, radio station KDKO-FM, cultural preservation programs and administrative offices, according to CEO Charon Asetoyer.
Court records include an account by Charles Mix County Deputy Sheriffs Cydney Porter and Damon Griffith.
Porter said she responded around 4 a.m. Dec. 20 to a 911 call reporting the resource center was on fire. The deputy observed flames on the west side of the building and visible flames coming out of the roof. The flames spread throughout the structure.
Griffith left the scene after about an hour and returned to the sheriff’s office. While at the office, Andes Lake Fire Chief Rod Bergin contacted the dispatcher and asked a deputy at the scene of the fire to speak to some people.
Bergin said two girls had information about the fire. The fire chief added that he believes the fire was arson and has contacted the State Fire Marshall to investigate.
Griffith spoke to the two girls separately, who said they saw a man walk past their house on the High Street towards the resource centre. The man wore black and a black ski mask with only his eyes visible.
The two girls went back inside the house, coming back outside half an hour later when they heard noises coming from the management of the resource center. They saw flames coming out of the roof of the center and walking, a girl calling 911.
The girls provided additional details about the man they saw earlier walking down the street.
At around 6:30 a.m., Griffith was leaving the sheriff’s office to finish his shift when jail staff said a man wanted to speak to a deputy. Griffith said he recognized the man as Donovan Sully from previous dealings.
“I asked Sully what was going on, and Sully started crying and said ‘I think I started a fire,'” Griffith said in court records.
After being told of his Miranda rights, Sully agreed to speak with the deputy. Sully described the day’s events, where he went from Wagner at the Fort Randall Casino near Pickstown to an Andes Lake man’s apartment, where he grew angry when the resident didn’t answered the door to help him.
Sully provided an account of his activities, including a period when he passed out and then regained consciousness lying next to a gas tank.
Additionally, Sully asked if he could take off his jumpsuit, and Griffith noticed that the man’s clothing matched the description given by the two girls.
During the interview, Sully said he went to the resource center, sat there for an hour, and stuffed an old pair of black Converse shoes with paper and that he had set the fire. He put the shoe between the screen door and the interior door on the west side of the resource center. He then walked to the east side of the building and attempted to set fire to some leaves near the stairwell.
After more attempts to start fires in the community, Sully said he returned to the jail, threw his knife against the fence because he didn’t want to take it into the facility, and then entered to request an assistant.
Authorities returned to the resource center, spoke with Bergin and the state fire marshal, and verified Sully’s information. “The fire was determined to have started on the west side of the door, the same location where Sully had placed his flaming shoes,” Griffith said.
Every part of Sully’s statement has been verified except for anything that burned at a residence, Griffith said.
Sully was arrested and charged with first degree arson, reckless burning and willful damage to property. He performed a preliminary breath test at 8:45 p.m., which resulted in a digital reading of 0.000.
Sully was taken into the custody of Charles Mix County Jail staff.
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