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Hagerstown man pleads guilty in arson case

August 14, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown man charged with setting a fire at his neighbors' home as the occupants inside slept pleaded guilty to second-degree arson and two counts of reckless endangerment in Washington County Circuit Court Tuesday.

Donald Lee Edwards Jr. also had been charged with five counts of attempted second-degree murder and one count of possession of a destructive device. Those charges were dismissed in exchange for his plea before Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick Wright.

Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Steve Kessell said Edwards crept up to his neighbor's home, smashed a window with a baseball bat and threw a Molotov cocktail-style device inside on March 3.

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Dianna Blair, 48, Randy and Ryan Blair, both 19, Austin Thompson, 9, and Lane Foxworthy, 19 months, were inside the 14658 St. Paul Road home when fire broke out but got out safely, he said.

Damage to the house and possessions was estimated at $180,000 and the family was left homeless, according to a fire investigator.

Kessell said the plea agreement was "appropriate because of his (Edwards') lack of serious record."

Edwards, 18, of 14702 St. Paul Road, set the fire because of a dispute with Randy Blair about an unpaid debt, Kessell said.

Edwards was ordered held without bond pending a pre-sentencing investigation.

Members of the Blair family stood and told Wright they were dissatisfied with the plea agreement and that they hadn't been able to address the court before it was accepted.

Wright advised them that they would have the opportunity to write letters to the court and that he would read the letters before sentencing Edwards.

Dianna Blair said she was devastated by the fire, which could have destroyed her family as well as her home.

"This was nothing less than an act of terrorism," she said.

Blair said she and her family are living at an apartment complex until they can rebuild.

"They're treating this like it was a prank that got out of hand," said Keith Foxworthy, whose child Lane was sleeping in the home on the night of the fire.

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