A former student at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin, who set a fire in a residence hall and claimed it was a hate crime against her has been charged with a misdemeanor count of negligent handling of burning materials.
The College Fix reported that Victoria Unanka was charged with the misdemeanor and faces a “maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine or nine months in prison, or both, according to the criminal complaint.” The La Crosse Tribune reported that Unanka’s attorney entered a plea of not guilty on her behalf Wednesday.
Unanka was originally arrested and charged with arson as well as the misdemeanor, but La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke dropped the arson charge, telling the Fix that he didn’t think it applied.
“Arson is for burning a structure, this looks more like a dangerous situation to get attention [by] setting fire to a garbage can,” he told the outlet.
Gruenke also provided a copy of the criminal complaint to the Fix, which says Unanka admitted to police that she set the fire. The criminal complaint also notes that security footage showed Unanka in the area at the time the fire was set.
As The Daily Wire previously reported, Unanka reportedly texted a friend on the night of April 18 to say that a small fire that began in her residence hall must have been targeted at her because it began next to her room. Unanka had previously claimed to be the victim of a hate crime as well, and even after she was arrested for the fire, Viterbo president Glena Temple said that the university was still investigating Unanka’s earlier claims of victimhood.
“This is a complex situation that involves a series of concerning incidents,” Temple said, according to the La Crosse Tribune. “We continue to investigate the incidents earlier in the semester and any potential link between them and this fire.”
The La Crosse Fire Department arrived on campus around 2:30 a.m. on April 18, where a fire had been reported at Marian Hall in the second-floor lounge. The fire was easily put out with a fire extinguisher, though the fired department said there was a “fair amount” of smoke damage and that ventilation was required. The department also reported minor damage to a wall and a bit of carpet. The fire was small enough not to trigger the sprinkler system.
Unanka allegedly told police she had been with her friends the night of the fire and returned home around midnight, at which time she made some food and went to the lounge to wash her hands. She said she didn’t go anywhere else in the residence hall before returning to her room. She also told police she didn’t see anything suspicious prior to the fire. Once the alarm went off, she said she and a friend knocked on doors to get other students out of the building.
When police reviewed security footage of the residence hall, however, they noticed inconsistencies in Unanka’s claims. Surveillance footage showed Unanka left her room at about 2:09 a.m. and began checking to see if other people were present. In the next five minutes, Unanaka goes into the lounge area and a bathroom before going back to her room. At 2:14 a.m., smoke could be seen on the camera footage. Unanka then began knocking on residents’ doors and pulled the fire alarm herself.
It was a resident adviser who told police that Unanka texted a friend to say the fire was yet another hate crime against her.
When police noted the inconsistencies between Unanka’s version of events and the security footage, she changed her story and admitted she intended to set the fire. She claimed she quickly decided against the fire and went back to the lounge after she went to the bathroom and attempted to clean up the smoking remnants of old food on the stove. She said the paper towels she used caught fire and she shook them out to try to extinguish the flames. She then tossed them in the garbage can.
She told police she was frustrated that “no one was listening to me anymore,” purportedly about her other claims of being the victim of racist incidents.
Unanka left campus shortly after the fire incident.