Woman arrested on murder charges for Rural Avenue fire death

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 30, 2014 

FERNDALE - It was no secret that Katherine Sofie wanted to burn down a home in the 4800 block of Rural Avenue, according to documents filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.

After telling friends for days that she wanted to burn the place down, a New Year's Day fire killed Mindy Rhoads, 23, who had been staying inside the home.

Sofie, 52, was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder Tuesday, April 28, in connection with Rhoads' death. An autopsy found Rhoads died of smoke inhalation.

"Her name came up quite a bit during the investigation," Ferndale Police Lt. Matt Huffman said of Sofie.

Whatcom County Sheriff's deputies arrested Sofie during a traffic stop on the Guide Meridian, after a warrant was issued for her arrest on Monday following the lengthy investigation.

Her bail was set at $500,000 Wednesday at her first appearance in a courtroom at the Whatcom County Jail. Sofie was quiet and serious during the brief hearing.

In the days before the fire, Sofie had told several people that she was going to burn down the Rural Avenue house, according to probable cause documents.

The house was being taken apart as scrap in preparation for demolition when Sofie allegedly set the fire. Sofie had been in a relationship with a man who had been staying and working at the house while it was scrapped, and that relationship was apparently contentious after their break-up, according to court documents.

On New Year's Eve, Sofie allegedly got drunk and told a number of people she was going to "burn that house down," according to court documents. She also told people she was mad at her ex-boyfriend and wanted to teach him a lesson.

At about 9 p.m. on Jan. 1, Sofie drove another woman over to the home to look for another person's cellphone. The other woman was in the barn looking for rocks when Sofie told her to hurry and get going. As they drove off, Sofie told the woman she had "lit that (house) on fire," saying that she was serious, and that the house was going to be demolished the next day anyway, according to court documents.

A Border Patrol agent in the area spotted the fire and banged on the front door, calling to anyone who might be inside but got no response. By the time firefighters arrived, flames had engulfed the house. The body was discovered about an hour into the firefighting effort.

Fire investigators found that the fire was not caused by any electrical malfunctions in the home. Burn patterns indicate that the fire was started in the garage by a handheld device such as a lighter or match.

During the investigation, Sofie's daughter told police that her mother had come over late on the night of the fire upset and crying, which was out of character for her. Sofie told her daughter she couldn't believe a woman had died in the fire, according to court documents.

Huffman was unsure of Rhoads' connection to the home. He said police weren't planning any further arrests in the case.

READ THE REPORT

Click here to read a copy (PDF) of the affidavit of probable cause against Katherine Marie Sofie (note: contains vulgar language).

Reach Zoe Fraley at zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com or 360-756-2803. Read the Dispatcher Blog at bellinghamherald.com/dispatcher-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhamcrime.

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