San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

April 23rd, 2009
Man who burned old hospital serving eight years probation

PHOTO by WADE PARHAM

Flames shot more than 100 feet in the air when fire was set to the former county hospital and Pike fraternity house. Nicholas Lane, 27, is serving eight years probation for the arson.

by BRAD ROLLINS
Managing Editor

A 27-year-old man is serving eight years probation for igniting a blaze that destroyed the 101-year-old former hospital and Pike house on Belvin Street two years ago this month.

Nicholas Lane Ryan, who uses a Dripping Springs address in court documents, set fire to a couch on the third floor of the vacant landmark on April 9, 2007 while exploring the property.

He pled guilty in September to a second-degree felony count of arson and was sentenced by 22nd State District Judge Charles Ramsay to probation with deferred adjudication. Ryan was also ordered to pay $43,816 in restitution to the building’s owner, San Marcos developer Terry Gilmore.

Ryan avoided prison because he had no significant prior convictions and because the building was abandoned, said W. Paul Parash, his court-appointed attorney. Prosecutors’ attitude toward the crime seemed to be, Parash said, “that it was just a bunch of dumb kids. There was no malice involved.”

A 15-year-old boy was also charged with arson for his role in the fire but the disposition of that case is not known and District Attorney Sherri Tibbe declined to comment because he is a juvenile.

It was built in 1906 as a dormitory for the Coronal Institute, a Methodist school, and christened Fisher Hall. When the school closed in 1919, the building was used as a barracks for Southwest Texas Normal School’s army training corp. Starting in 1923, it was the Old Soldiers, Sailors and Marines hospital and served as the only hospital in the county. Bought by the American Legion in 1956, it was leased to San Marcos Baptist Academy, then a military-style academy, as the lower school. The cadets used to practice formations on the 3.7-acre grounds.

Then it became the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house in 1968 — and a flashpoint of town-and-gown tension with many of the neighbors angry about parties and noise.

“If it had burned down back then, there probably would have been about a hundred suspects within a couple blocks,” said Bill Cunningham, a future Texas State University regent chair who was a student at the time.

Fisher Hall was a fraternity house until 1998 when it was bought by Gilmore, whose younger brother was born there when it was a hospital. Gilmore intended to renovate the 12,500-square-foot building as his home but eventually abandoned the plan and it sat boarded-up and vacant for nearly a decade.

During this time, it became a rite of passage for young people in town to explore the stately Victorian Era building, drawn there by legends that the building was haunted, that it was once an insane asylum or that a fraternity pledge died there during a hazing ritual.

The crowd that turned out to watch it burn numbered in the thousands and included spectators of all ages. Before the ruins cooled, authorities had made arrests, tipped off by Lane’s juvenile sister-in-law who was outside when the fire started.

“Before the fire was even out, everyone was in jail,” Fire Marshal Ken Bell said.

The unstable shell of the building was demolished a few weeks after the fire.

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20 thoughts on “Man who burned old hospital serving eight years probation

  1. Not cool. He deserves a much harsher punishment. ‘Abandoned’ building or not; it was still a beautiful example of Victorian architecture and an important part of history – now it’s gone. I believe the prosecutors did an extremely poor job, not only in representing the owner, but for doing little to ensure that justice was served for many generations of this community. I’m glad Gilmore gets paid, but the citizens get nothing for their loss (except a tax bill for his probation officer for the next 15 years). It’s sad to realize that a piece of 101-year-old History is worth less than the cost of a new Ford or Chevy SUV (before Tax,Title & License fees).

  2. I hate to monday a.m. quarterback the justice system but i agree this is stupid. he didn’t need to be put away for multiple years but one yr in county jail would have been better than 8 yrs probation. what happened here?

  3. A 27-year old was hanging out with a juvenile. Yet no malice was intended. There is something wrong with this picture. This was a landmark building, whether it was boarded up or not. You shouldn’t be able to walk away from destroying our county’s history. This guy should have also had to do thousands of hours in community service work to learn more about our history. We have over 100 historic cemeteries in the county that need to be mowed….

  4. Wait a minute…deferred adjudication ??????? This guy will get off with a clean record after he finishes his probation!!!!

  5. You guys have no idea what actually happened. One response said that the county is left with the bill of probation for 15 years, well it was 10 to be real…duh…not 15. Second, maybe the juvenile was not there with the adult but was there with the juvenile sister in law who was toted around by her adult sister…duh. And really, who gives a shit about the building or the owner. The owner had been fighting with the county for years to get that place demolished…sounds like somebody just did him a favor…..duh. Have you seen his immaculate home that was built there? You people have no idea what you are talking about and I am sure that you are not exactly law abiding citizens. You break the law every single day when you get in your car and refuse to follow traffic laws….duh. Retards!

  6. Gilmore did not build the home that is currently on the site. What other “facts” do you not have correct? Thanks for caring so much about our history – as well as your own. If, in fact, you even live in Hays County.

  7. Bob,

    get your facts straight and don’t comment on something you don’t know. You tell others they don’t know what they are talking about yet you don’t know that this is not the Gilmore’s home! As you say…DUH!!

    Also get the word “retard” out of you vocabulary. It is an offensive word to persons with intellectual disabilities that is no longer used for a reason…ignorant people like you using it to characterize and make fun of someone!

  8. It was a neat old building, but I don’t see the need for any “special” prosecution of the case because of that fact. It was, after all, private property and not an actual public landmark. Gilmore was just letting it rot anyway….someone actually did him a favor by burning it down.

    If the sentence fit the norm for the situation (first time offender, etc), then I don’t see where anyone has a gripe. But then again, this is the Internet where *everyone* has a gripe.

  9. Well…..Yall still break laws every day driving in your car. So you are no better than the person that committed this crime. And yes, the building was just rotting away. Its not like it was a tourism site or anything. Gilmore made a shit ton of money off this. The guy was a first time offender and has not since committed a crime. Just a day of bad judgement. And so what if retard is offensive..does a retard even know he’s retarded? You’ve probably done stupid things yourself, you just never got caught. As said before, Gilmore made a shit ton of money off this crime, so who is to lose. If yall loved that place so much, maybe you should have bought it yourself and restored it. Have you ever been in that building? That place was a total dump. It was a rotting, undesirable, trash filled, hunk of junk.

  10. Nice to see that you got out of jail Bob. You are pretty much one of those names you like to throw around. I think you have an intellectual disability

  11. Why you hide under a secret name when responding to this. People if you really had any sense you wouldn’t be so harsh on this person. I have seen that building before the fire and it was nothing, but a piece of rotting junk and YES the guy who owned it made off with a good amount of money on this twice. He got paid from the insurance and money from that person too. Also the person took the blame for it all when it wasn’t him that did it in the first place. So get your FACTS straight before you comment on this. Also there are more people that are breaking the crime worst than this and they get it away with every day so we should be thinking about that more than any thing.

  12. Yes, Mr Ryan did not even commit the actual crime. It was all pinned on him because he was the oldest person there and he took the blame to save face for the younger folks that attended. Mr Ryan has since moved on with his life and has continued in the career that he was partaking in before this incident. The other people that were present during this incident suffered no consequences at all. This was a life changing event for all parties involved. But, what matters most is that the defendant has become an exceptional citizen and has put all of this behind him. I’ll bet you folks are still breaking the law every single time you drive your car around town and putting many peoples’ lives at risk.

  13. Mr. James

    Why did you bring this up 4 years later and why do you talk about people breaking the law every single time they drive thier car? What is your point of this entire post.

    1) “You break the law every single day when you get in your car and refuse to follow traffic laws”

    2) “Well…..Yall still break laws every day driving in your car. So you are no better than the person that committed this crime.”

    3) “I’ll bet you folks are still breaking the law every single time you drive your car around town and putting many peoples’ lives at risk.”

    Are you family of the arsonist who did this? and why now? So he’s got his life together, GREAT FOR HIM!! Where is his post in all of this defending himself? Move on to something current. Oh but keep driving the exact posted speed limit as I am sure you always do not putting people’s lives at risk!

  14. You people who like locking up your fellow citizens for crimes that hurt no one else physically are mentally sick.

    If you would go take a tour of our lovely jail facilities yourself maybe you would be a little more forgiving and not be so quick to toss people in cages.

    Jail is where the elite send poor people, probation is for people with money.
    In Jail taxpayers have to pay for the inmates. On probation the criminal pays the county through fines, classes and monthly payments to probation in order to avoid jail.

  15. Oh no I’m not kin to this person. I just see that there are some people that desire harsh treatment of others. Oh and yes I’ll continue with the rant….you folks don’t obey speed limits, fail to signal, run red lights and use your phone while driving. Maybe they oughtta lock your butt up for attempted assault because that’s what you’re doing. Anyhow, nobody knows what really happened. People make mistakes. Prison is for killers and molesters. Not young, dumb and full of cum folks. Get a life.

  16. I see that I am famous in San Marcos…..
    What a shame that people actually waste their time talking about something that they don’t even know. This event is behind us all. The owner made off well…trust me I know personally. Probation is just a set up for failure, I should have taken the penitentiary time and gotten out in 6 months instead of still dealing with it 7 years later…….blah Blah Blah…

  17. Is it true that you could see the burned pledge books nailed to the wall? To honor the pledge that died (and was that real? Is there a news story? I’m intrigued).

  18. Brad – I pray that you will never remove the Hospital fire story from the archives as these comments are precious gold. I really think there is a book to be written on that property, likely starting with a Native American burial ground with a crescendo on the night of the fire.

  19. The building was a piece of history that served some noble causes. It deserved a better fate than arson.

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