A Minnesota dentist who police say eventually admitted to torching a neighbor’s dilapidated boathouse reportedly “looked as if he were a deer in headlights” after investigators indicated that they were onto him.
The claim about Creekview Dental CEO John Michael Haag, found in a criminal complaint filed in St. Croix County Circuit Court, came after police on Feb. 2 traced a set of footprints from the charred-out boathouse back to Haag’s home near Bass Lake in New Richmond, Wisconsin.
“The tracks angled every ten feet or so as if the suspect was turning around and checking behind him,” one deputy wrote in the complaint, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
The boathouse is said to be at the center of a dispute between its owner and a local lake association group, in which Haag is the treasurer. In draft meeting minutes from June 2018, Haag brought up state planning guidelines as to how “ideally things should ‘blend'” along the edges of the lake and indicated a desire to remove the structure, the newspaper added.
Wallace Cudd, the boathouse’s owner, told the Twin Cities Pioneer Press that it has been falling apart over the past few years and after working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, it was agreed that he would have until the end of this winter to get rid of the boathouse.
But on Feb. 2, Cudd says he had to wake up around 2:15 a.m. to extinguish the fire out of concerns that it would “spread to trees and other properties” in the area.
Haag initially denied that he started the inferno, but later confessed after police visited his house to obtain information for a warrant, the newspaper says.
“It was me, I did it, I started the fire,” Haag reportedly said to officers before handing over a jacket, balaclava, and boots that matched the pattern on the footprints leading to his home, among other items he says he wore on the night of the blaze. Two open gas cans also were found.
New Richmond is near Wisconsin's border with Minnesota. On the website for Haag's dental business, located in Woodbury, Minnesota, it says he "enjoys the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives by helping them smile with confidence."
Haag now is set to appear March 8 for a preliminary court hearing and faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison and a $100,000 fine if convicted on an arson charge.