The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

January 26, 2006

Mountaineer couch burners inspire new arson bill

Mannix Porterfield

CHARLESTON — Couch-burning rowdies setting fires in the streets of Morgantown after West Virginia University football games could face time in the slammer in a new Senate bill.

While post-game revelry in Morgantown was the inspiration, the sponsor, Sen. Jon Blair Hunter, D-Monongalia, emphasized Thursday his bill covers the entire state in an effort to discourage fires blocking streets and roads.

Setting fires in public rights-of-way would expose an offender to a charge of fourth-degree arson, punishable by a prison term of one to two years and/or or a maximum $2,500 fine.

“Nobody should be burning stuff in a right-of-way in a road,” Hunter said.

“That’s a very dangerous thing to do. Instead of targeting couches per se in Morgantown, we wanted to promote the idea that we ought to talk about burning stuff that’s going to block any sort of right-of-way.”

Massive couch burnings became standard fare in recent years after WVU home football games.

Such acts even caught the attention of some sportscasters on cable shows, and inspired a fad T-shirt about WVU, “Where excellence is learned and couches are burned.”

Those in authority never saw the humor in such revelry, however, including Hunter.

Such fires could gnaw through utility lines, exposing the elderly to unheated homes in late autumn, he noted.

“If you get a wind, it could blow over and hit a house,” the senator said.

“It’s a very populated area where they’re doing this. Some of those houses are three- and four stories high with apartments in them. And it’s just as dangerous to the firemen to constantly have to come out on things like that.”

Hunter said he was asked to offer the legislation at the behest of the Morgantown City Council after members met with lawmakers from that region.

While some WVU students have been expelled, Hunter said it wasn’t fair to assume all couch burners attend the university.

“Some are non-students,” he said. “Once an event is over, people flock in from miles around. A lot of them are young teenagers who aren’t even in school there.”

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