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Man gets probation in incident that burned friend

November 05, 2009

HAGERSTOWN -- A Sharpsburg man accused of setting his friend on fire pleaded guilty Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court to one count of reckless endangerment.

Clayton Muller, 20, of 2806 Harpers Ferry Road, was granted probation before judgment for a period of 24 hours by Circuit Judge Daniel Dwyer.

Charges of first- and second-degree assault against Muller were dismissed.

Dwyer issued his ruling after listening to Muller's request that he be given the opportunity to follow through with his intentions to serve in the U.S. Marines.

Muller said he was serious about his desire to serve in the military, and he regretted injuring his friend, Caleb Walla.

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Walla spoke briefly in court Thursday, saying he didn't want to see Muller serve any jail time for his actions, and he just wanted to be able to pay the $936.25 he owes in medical expenses.

"We were good friends before this," Walla said.

Dwyer said the incident seemed to be an isolated one.

"It doesn't sound like this was malicious; it was just stupid," Dwyer said.

By pleading guilty, Muller admitted to dousing a chiminea, or outdoor fireplace, with lighter fluid in his yard March 15.

He spritzed some of the fluid on the arm of Walla, who was sitting near the chiminea when the fire swelled, according to court documents.

The flames engulfed Walla, who dropped to the ground and began rolling to smother the fire, according to documents.

A witness helped Walla put out the flames and indicated that Muller was laughing during the incident, but he later took Walla to a hospital for emergency treatment, said Muller's attorney, Jack Blomquist.

"I admit it was very stupid, especially for someone wanting to join the millitary," Muller said.

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