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Principal’s cash bond set at $500,000

DICKINSON, N.D. — A high school principal sat in a room of alleged felons wearing orange jumpsuits.

He was one of them.

Trinity High School Principal Thomas Sander appeared Wednesday in Stark County Court via video from the Southwest Multi-County Correction Center, where he’ll be held on $500,000 cash bond, Judge Dann Greenwood ordered at the hearing.

Sander, 30, is charged with arson and endangering by fire, Class B felonies, after he allegedly set fire to contents of a file cabinet in the office vault at Trinity High School, according to charges filed Wednesday.

The fire early Monday spread and caused serious damage. Classes can’t be held at the building for the rest of the school year and will be moved to various Dickinson Public Schools and Catholic church facilities.

The endangerment charge is based on the fact Sander knew a resident, Trinity religion teacher Robert Storey, was living in a second-floor apartment in the school at the time.

Greenwood said the severity of the case, Sander’s lack of ties to Dickinson and the “dramatic impact” the community has felt from the fire warranted the high bond. Sander won’t be able to bail out, based on financial data he outlined to Greenwood.

“That seems to me to be a lot of money, Your Honor,” Sander said to Greenwood.

But Assistant Stark County State’s Attorney Rhonda Ehlis said the bond, which she recommended, was fair considering the crime.

“We could’ve very easily had a loss of life,” she said. “... We have had an entire school displaced.”

She said that since Sander has no community ties besides his job, which brought him to Dickinson from Omaha, Neb., in September, and doesn’t own property, he could pose a flight risk.

He was renting a room in a Dickinson home.

When Greenwood asked her about the state’s case against Sander, Ehlis said it was strong, and that the charges are based on Sander’s interview with investigators.

“The strength of the state’s case is very good,” she said.

Sander, answering Greenwood’s questions directly and acting with little emotion, told the judge he planned to hire his own attorney.

The hearing had few spectators. Any Trinity representation was busy at an Ash Wednesday Mass and informational meeting held around the same time.

The judge, Ehlis and Sander touched on the idea that after allegedly trying to burn his school down, Sander probably didn’t still have a job as its principal.

But he hasn’t talked to Trinity officials since Monday. Last month he told school officials that he would not return next school year.

If Sander bails out, he’ll be prohibited from talking to anyone from the school unless through a lawyer.

If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $40,000 fine.

Sander’s next scheduled court date is a preliminary hearing April 21.