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Deputy: Suspect in Fireworks Fire Doesn’t Seem To Know What He’s Done

July 6, 1996

PROCTORVILLE, Ohio (AP) _ Todd Hall was never the same after falling off a skateboard and hitting his head as a teen-ager. He had two operations, the second one a lobotomy.

The 24-year-old, accused of starting a fire that killed eight people in a fireworks store, has the mind of a 12-year-old, neighbors say. He would wander into homes uninvited, pester people on the street, ride his bike on neighbors’ lawns.

Hall giggled like a delighted child and mugged for the cameras Friday as he was arraigned on charges of involuntary manslaughter for allegedly setting the fire.

``He doesn’t appear that he knows what he done,″ said sheriff’s Deputy John Tordiff. ``What he is is kind of slow.″

Investigators said Hall, egged on by a few friends, lit a box of firecrackers at the crowded Ohio River Fireworks store in Scottown on Wednesday. Customers stampeded toward a door as flames erupted and firecrackers and bottle rockets exploded.

Prosecutor J.B. Collier Jr. would not rule out charges against the friends and said investigators were getting conflicting reports about who was with Hall that day.

In court, Hall giggled as photographers snapped his picture.

``Let me do my hair first,″ he joked. Flanked by two deputies as he sat in the jury box, he flashed the peace sign.

``But I didn’t do it. It’s not fair,″ Hall complained, interrupting Municipal Judge Don Capper as he explained the charges against him.

Hall was ordered held on $500,000 bail for a hearing July 12, appointed a lawyer and ordered examined to determine if he is competent to stand trial. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Hall has behaved strangely for years, neighbors say.

``He’s the biggest nuisance you’ve ever seen in your life,″ said Glen Stiltner, owner of a gas station and convenience store near Hall’s home. Workers at Stiltner’s store said Hall would harass customers and steal cigarettes and lighters.

Cashier Billie Tomlin said Hall ``was the type who liked to start a fire.″

She said she once caught Hall trying to light a piece of paper on fire in the parking lot, but he stopped when she told him not to do it.

Neighbor Tom Nibert said Hall’s behavior had become more troublesome recently. He would ride his bike through other people’s property and walk into the Niberts’ home uninvited, asking for money or gasoline.

Hall’s father, James, said he had been trying to get help for his son ever since the 1987 skateboarding accident in Morgantown, W.Va. ``I’ve had him in the best hospitals in the country,″ the elder Hall said.

The lobotomy put Hall in a coma for six weeks. His father and stepmother went on ABC’s ``Nightline″ on Sept. 23, 1992, to discuss the accident during a show about health insurance problems.

Hall’s family claimed the skateboard was defective and sued the manufacturer, retailers and West Virginia University Hospitals.

The lawsuit was settled in 1994. The Columbus Dispatch reported today that Hall received nearly $20 million. Hall’s attorney in the case declined to comment Friday.

Hall bought a house for $125,000 in 1994, apparently without taking a mortgage. The deed said Hall was incompetent and under guardianship.

Also that year, Hall was charged with domestic violence against his father. The charge was dismissed after James Hall said his son was incompetent, court records said. No further information was immediately available.

The elder Hall on Friday would say only that his son was becoming physically aggressive.

Meanwhile, three victims of the fire remained in critical condition, and authorities were using dental records to confirm the identities of the dead.

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