Five US fire fighters arrested for allegedly setting fires
Five volunteer fire fighters in Cabell County, West Virginia, are facing felony charges for allegedly setting fires so they could later respond to them. All five are suspended from the Barboursville Volunteer Fire Department (BVFD), according to BVFD Chief Chad Ward. Charles Weybrecht ‘Chase’ Peoples and Glenn Fletcher Harman, both aged 20, are charged with burning of other buildings or structures, also known as second-degree arson according to the fire marshal. Brett Allen Ray, age 20, is charged with first-degree arson. Travis Michael Bailey, age 28 and Ian Hockenberry, age 21 are both charged with first-degree arson. Bailey admitted to setting a fire on 5 February 2019.
The West Virginia State Fire Marshal's Office made the arrests on Tuesday. All five were arraigned at the Cabell County Courthouse. Ward said the fire department was made aware of the investigation in early December. That's when "all involved parties" were suspended, pending the outcome of this investigation. "The Barboursville Fire Department is cooperating fully with the WV State Fire Marshal’s Office and the prosecutor handling the case," Ward said. "We are unable to comment further at this time."
One of the fires happened on 7 April 2017. It was at a home in the 5300 block of Guyan River Road in Barboursville. Fire fighters found a single story home, made from wood, over an embankment on fire. More than a year later, on26 November 2018, Hockenberry admitted to going inside the home and setting the fire. He admitted to doing it so that he could later respond with the Barboursville Volunteer Fire Department.
At the same address, there was another fire on 20 December 2017. This time, the BVFD responded to a garage apartment fire. The apartment roof was collapsing and "fully engulfed" in fire. It wasn't until nearly a year later, on 26 November 2018, that one of the fire fighters came forward. Hockenberry told investigators that Ray set the fire. He knows this because Hockenberry says he was with Ray at the time.
Ray allegedly got in through a back door. Hockenberry said Ray set the fire so that the pair could then respond to the scene as members of the BVFD. The same day Hockenberry spoke with investigators, Ray confessed to the crime.
Then, there was a fire on 6 February 2018. An abandoned building in the 6300 block of Ohio River Road in Lesage caught fire. The building, also known as the Ash Apple Orchard Stand, was a total loss. Bailey confessed to starting the fire, according to the criminal complaint. He also told investigators that Peoples and Harman were with him when he set the fire. Peoples then confessed to the state fire marshal's office that he knew Bailey was going to set the fire and was there when it happened. Harman confessed, too and said Bailey set the fire so the group could respond once the fire was called in to 911.
A third fire happened on 18 February 2018 at a home in the 6300 block of East Pea Ridge Road in Huntington. This building was also "fully engulfed" when the BVFD got on scene. On 29 November 2018, Bailed admitted to intentionally setting the fire, using a flare to ignite it. Once again, Bailey admitted to committing arson so that he could respond as a fire fighter.
Kim Tomblin runs a daycare next to the Barboursville Fire Department. She was shocked when she learned what the five men are accused of. "I personally do know several of them," she said. "They're always there. They're always here for the village."
Case in point: local media ran a story last July about Hockenberry helping save an unconscious woman from a house fire. That was not one of the fires mentioned in the criminal complaints. Neighbours say the department has had an upstanding reputation, which is why this development came as such a big surprise. "It was wrong," Tomblin said. "That's not something you randomly go out and do, start fires."