4 charged in prank gone wrong that killed Bradley soccer player

By Jan Dennis

PEORIA, Ill. – Prosecutors charged four college students with arson Monday, saying they botched a fireworks prank and instead set a fire that killed a 19-year-old Bradley University soccer player as he slept in his room after a night of drinking.

The men could have faced first-degree murder charges, prosecutors said, but they didn’t mean to harm Sheridan “Danny” Dahlquist and in fact tried to rescue him during Sunday morning’s blaze.

“They intended for their friend to run outside in his underwear, going ‘What the hell happened,'” said Kevin Lyons, the Peoria County prosecutor. “I’m quite certain that every person I know could put themselves in the shoes of the defendants.”

Nicholas Mentgen, 21, Ryan Johnson, 22, David Crady, 19, and 20-year-old Daniel Cox each were charged with two counts of aggravated arson and one count of possession of an explosive or incendiary device.

Dahlquist, a sophomore on Bradley’s soccer team, was found near a window in his bedroom, suggesting he tried to escape, prosecutors said. He died of carbon monoxide toxicity due to smoke inhalation after the fire in the West Peoria home he shared with Mentgen, Johnson and Crady, county Coroner Johnna Ingersoll said.

The four men lit two roman candles under Dahlquist’s bedroom door as an apparent prank after a night of drinking, Lyons said. They then tried to rescue Dahlquist through both a door and second-story window when they saw the roman candles had started a fire but were turned back by intense heat, Lyons said.

The men need to be held accountable, Lyons said.

“I don’t want to make five tragedies out of one tragedy, but I also understand that we have to have consequences for our actions,” Lyons said.

Mentgen, Johnson and Crady also are members of Bradley’s soccer team, Lyons said. He said Cox is a friend of the soccer players who attends Illinois Central College in nearby East Peoria.

Bradley sports information director Bobby Parker said Monday night that the athletic department had just learned of the charges, but will review the players’ status with the team.

Peoria County Judge Kevin Galley set bond at $500,000 for each of the four men during a hearing on Monday. Peoria County Public Defender Thomas Penn Jr. sought bond of no more than $200,000, saying the tragedy was a prank that went wrong.

Penn did not immediately return a call for comment after the hearing.

The four men remained jailed Monday night and are scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing Sept. 13.

If convicted, the men each face six to 30 years in prison on the aggravated arson charge, a felony that does not qualify for probation. Each also faces up to 30 years in prison on the explosives charge, which includes probation as an option.

Dahlquist graduated from Peoria Notre Dame High School in 2006, and helped the school win its first Class A state soccer title in 2004.

Both of his parents work for the university.

“The Dahlquist family is moved by the many expressions of love and support they have received … Please continue to hold them in your prayers,” said William Engelbrecht, Bradley’s vice president of advancement.

He declined to comment on the investigation, asking reporters to “respect the privacy of the family, soccer team and athletic staff.”

Lyons said the four men initially gave police conflicting accounts of the incident, trying to duck responsibility for the fire.

He said investigators later determined that the men had been involved in a similar prank two days before, and set off a roman candle under Dahlquist’s door earlier Sunday that failed to ignite.

They returned and lit two more, shooting off up to 16 balls of fire burning at about 1,500 degrees that ignited a wall across from the door, Lyons said.

Dahlquist was asleep in bed after a night of drinking when the explosives were set off, but was found on the floor near a window, indicating he awoke and tried to escape the fire that destroyed the bedroom and its contents, Lyons said.

Prosecutors say another roommate was arrested but later released after authorities determined he was asleep in a downstairs bedroom when the fire broke out.