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Video store owner angered by arson probe

May 10, 1999|By BRYN MICKLE

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The owners of a Martinsburg video store that caught fire twice last week are angry with the city's decision to continue its arson probe despite an insurance investigator's belief an electrical problem was to blame.

A York, Pa., fire investigator hired by the insurance carrier for Video Invasion has told the Martinsburg fire and police departments that he does not believe arson was the cause of two fires at the store last week, according to Martinsburg City Police.

The private fire investigator from Kufta Associates told police he believes the original fire last Wednesday might have been caused by "an electrical problem or malfunction" and a second fire in the store early Thursday was a rekindling of the first blaze, police said.

Martinsburg Fire Department Capt. David Brining, however, still believes the fires at the Old Courthouse Square store were intentionally set and said the case will remain under investigation.

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"My opinion is unchanged," Brining said.

Brining refused to comment on why he believes the fires were set.

Video Invasion owner Robert Hubbard said the opinion of the private fire investigator should put an end to the official inquiry.

"It seems like the investigators already had their minds made up," said Hubbard. "What really puzzles me is why they called the second fire an arson - there was nothing left to burn."

Hubbard said an eight-person cleaning crew had been in the store late Tuesday doing spring cleaning and left about 1 a.m. The fire started about 20 minutes later and might have been caused by a faulty cord on a copier, he said.

Hubbard said his wife, Donna, has been nervous since the fire but both feel "exonerated" by the private fire investigator.

Robert Hubbard said the couple feel as though they've been cursed, with both having had to endure an arson investigation in July 1997 after an arson destroyed a Video Invasion on Winchester Avenue just outside the Martinsburg city limits.

"Any time you have two fires like that some people are going to think you might be responsible," Hubbard said.

Hubbard said that while he and his wife had previously agreed to take polygraph tests as part of the police investigation, he said now he doubted they would take one.

Hubbard said his insurance carrier, Erie Insurance Co., has told him it will go with the determination made by Kufta Associates and will pay his insurance claim.

The fire destroyed about 13,000 videotapes. Estimated damage to Video Invasion was about $700,000, Hubbard said.

City fire investigators estimated the total damage to Video Invasion and neighboring stores at $1.5 million.

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