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City man pleads guilty to arson charge

May 31, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown man charged with setting a fire that caused $24,000 in damage to an outbuilding at Hagerstown Kitchens pleaded guilty to second-degree arson in Washington County Circuit Court Thursday.

"I don't want to stand in front of the court and say I didn't do it. I did do it, sir," Stephen Matthew Westfall told Circuit Judge Donald Beachley.

Westfall, 36, of 13221 Marsh Pike in Hagerstown, also was charged in February with first-degree malicious burning and reckless endangerment. Those charges were dropped in exchange for his plea.

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Police said in charging documents that Westfall was a former employee at Hagerstown Kitchens at 19227 Long Meadow Road near Hagerstown.

He was angered that his workers' compensation claim was denied and retaliated by fashioning a Molotov cocktail-type device and throwing it into a 9-foot-by-11-foot storage building on Hagerstown Kitchen's property on Oct. 13, 2002, charging documents said.

"The fire spread from the outbuildings to the eaves of the main plant and into the attic area," charging documents said.

Deputy Washington County State's Attorney Charles Strong said Westfall was later seen by employees at a nearby Food Lion with singed hair and eyebrows.

Maryland State Fire Marshal Ryan Chapman investigated the blaze and his dog Canyon, detected accelerant in the rubble, charging documents said.

Westfall said Thursday that he works part time and intends to make full restitution to Hagerstown Kitchens for the outstanding $1,000 insurance deductible.

Defense attorney Carl Creeden asked Beachley to allow Westfall to remain free pending sentencing because he showed up for every court appearance and has no history of violence.

Beachley agreed but ordered that Westfall be supervised and report in weekly. He also ordered that Westfall keep his job, avoid the victims, pay the restitution and abstain from drugs and alcohol.

Beachley told Westfall the maximum penalty for second-degree arson is 20 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine. Sentencing was delayed pending a pre-sentence investigation.

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