A Le Sueur man acknowledged to police investigators that he left the St. Peter bowling alley he co-owned while a fire he started burned inside, according to charges filed in Nicollet County District Court.
Dwight Lee Selders, 47, was charged with first- and second-degree arson, both felonies. The charges are related to the Feb. 16 morning fire in south St. Peter that burned down KingPins bowling alley. One minor injury to an emergency responder was reported from the fire. There was no damage to adjacent buildings, but the bowling alley was listed a total loss by the St. Peter Fire Department.
According to the complaint, the first officer on scene reported seeing the south half of the building engulfed in flames. That officer noticed the fire moving north at a “very rapid pace.” The St. Peter fire chief reported the fire was “very large, blowing out fire approximately 30 feet into the air.” The chief reported the roof collapsed from the south and the entire roof subsequently collapsed in just 30 minutes.
According to the complaint, surveillance video shows Selders, who co-owned the business, walking out and locking up the night of Feb. 15. The next morning, Feb. 16, at approximately 7:24 a.m., according to the complaint, Selders was reportedly seen on surveillance video unlocking and entering the facility. He was reportedly the only person seen exiting or entrancing the building between those periods.
Upon entering the building Feb. 16 morning, Selders allegedly walked to an area behind the pin setting machines, shown on surveillance video. The video reportedly then showed a light, later identified as fire, coming from behind the pin-setting machines. Selders then allegedly walked away from the pin-setting area and was seen on the surveillance video looking back “toward the pin-setting machines area as fire continues to build …” He left the building at 7:30 a.m., according to the complaint.
When Selders and the other KingPins co-owner spoke with investigators on the morning of the fire, Selders allegedly did not tell them that he had been to the facility earlier that morning, and he “initially reported learning of the fire from text messages from friends …”
Interviewed later Feb. 27, Selders allegedly initially indicated he had no knowledge of the fire when he left KingPings on the morning of Feb. 16. When questioned further, he reportedly told investigators the fire must have been caused by a trouble light he used. He then said he used a small propane torch in an attempt to do work on the machine, according to the complaint.
As investigators continued to question him, Selders reportedly indicated that he was trying to fix the machine using the torch and “it got out of hand.” He reportedly said that a rag caught on fire, and he threw it in the orange plastic bucket. He also reported that he used a fluid to loosen the nut prior to using the torch.
The complaint continued, “Defendant described the fire as ‘not very big’ when he left the back of the building. Defendant admitted he ‘saw a glow’ when he looked back at the pin-setter area as he walked away. Defendant acknowledged there were fire extinguishers located on each end of the galley behind the pin setters and he walked past one when he left the area. Defendant admitted he knew something was on fire when he left the building.”
Selders then reportedly admitted that he knew about the fire when he left KingPins, and he confirmed there was no one else in the building with him.
An investigator later determined, according to the complaint, that the fire origin was behind one of the pin-setting machines, and the first material ignited was vapors from an ignitable liquid, and that an open fire instrument was used. The investigator determined the cause to be incendiary material.
According to the complaint and to property records, Selders and Jessica Ann Tonsfeldt purchased the property in 2014. Tonsfeldt has not been charged in relation to the fire.
The two had been in a relationship for 12 years prior to purchasing the business. According to the complaint, they had hoped to quit their other jobs upon purchasing the alley, but neither party was able to do so, as the business was only “breaking even” and profits were just enough to cover bills and pay employees.
The original loan taken out in 2014 was for $300,000, signed by both co-owners, according to the complaint. Selders reportedly took out subsequent loans, and the total outstanding debt on KingPins was about $418,000. The co-owners had an insurance policy on the business.
Tonsfeldt reportedly ended the relationship in October 2019, and in early February 2020, Selders moved out of Tonsfeldt’s home.
Selders reportedly said that the two considered selling the business in January 2020, but the probability of doing so was low, as several alleys were up for sale in the area.
Four days before the fire, on Feb. 12, according to the complaint, Tonsfeldt resigned her position. She said that Selders then texted her repeatedly. Through a search warrant, investigators reportedly found a text from Selders to Tonsfeldt on Feb. 12, saying she cannot quit and that is “not how it works, sorry.” Investigators reportedly found texts from Selders to multiple different people between Oct. 22, 2019 and Feb. 15, indicating his frustrations with the business.
According to property records, the former KingPins building was first constructed in 1962 and had undergone a number of renovations since. It had served as a bowling alley for nearly 60 years, previously named Bowlero Lanes and Sioux Trail Lanes.
Selders had a lifetime connection to the alley. He started bowling there at age 5.
“There’s not any other bowling alley I’d like to own,” he said to the St. Peter Herald in 2014.