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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ex-fireman pleads not guilty to arson

MARTINSBURG - A former Bedington volunteer firefighter indicted late last month on arson-related charges in connection to an April fire that critically injured another firefighter entered a plea of not guilty to all charges Monday at his arraignment in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

James L. Blackford III, 30, of Laing Drive, Martinsburg, was indicted by the grand jury Oct. 20 on one count of first-degree arson, setting fire to lands and causing serious injury during an arson-related crime.

Public defender John H. Lehman, who appeared on Blackford's behalf, said Blackford did not wish the indictment to be read in open court and the former firefighter agreed to waive his right to a speedy trial.

West Virginia 23rd Judicial Circuit Court Judge Gray Silver III subsequently scheduled a trial date in the case for March 9. A pre-trial hearing was scheduled for Feb. 22 and a status hearing was set for Jan. 11.

Silver also agreed to allow Blackford to remain free on the $200,000 property bond he previously posted while he awaits future court proceedings.

However, the court granted a request made by Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely to add a new condition to Blackford's bond.

Under the new condition of Blackford's bond, he must report to Berkeley County's new Day Reporting Center for random drug testing as requested.

The April 7 fire, which destroyed a barn and injured Bakers Heights volunteer firefighter Kenneth Ayers, was allegedly caused by a smoking device made out of a plastic bottle and rubbing alcohol that was used for smoking crack cocaine.

Blackford, who was a three-year member of the Bedington Volunteer Fire Department, admitted to officials that he had a part in causing the fire by accidentally knocking over the smoking device and failing to report the fire when it began. He told investigators that he tried to stamp out fire, but when he couldn't get to it, he went back to Bedington's fire station to report it.

Ayers was injured while attempting to put out the fire, which was at 1495 Williamsport Pike. He was treated at the hospital and later released.

Blackford suffered minor ankle injuries.

If convicted, Blackford could face two to 20 years in prison for the charge of first-degree arson; one to five years in prison and fines on the charge of setting fire on lands; and three to 15 years in prison and fines for the charge of causing injuries during arson.


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