W.Va. man testifies coworker set his mom's home on fire

January 21, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

Acting as his own attorney, a former firefighter charged with setting his mother's mobile home on fire in November testified Tuesday in a preliminary hearing that another man set the blaze.

William A. "Billy" Feimster, 25, spoke with little inflection as he testified in Berkeley County Magistrate Court. In a long statement, he said a co-worker at Lamberts, a private ambulance transport company, set the blaze to keep Feimster quiet.

Feimster said he caught the man stealing medical supplies, coffee money and other items from the Lamberts' building on Rock Cliff Drive. Feimster alleged that the other man held a gun to his head and threatened to kill him and his mother if he told anyone about the theft.


Called as a rebuttal witness, Sgt. Russell Shackelford, of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, said that Feimster had never before mentioned another person being involved.

"We don't even know if he (the other man) exists. No one else is a suspect," Shackelford said after the preliminary hearing.

During cross-examination, Assistant Prosecutor Greg Jones asked Feimster whether it seemed convenient that he was, for the first time, telling a new version of what happened, considering the fact that he faces time in prison.

"No it's not convenient. It's the truth," Feimster replied.

After the hour-long hearing, Magistrate Sandra Miller found there was sufficient probable cause to forward the case to Circuit Court for possible grand jury indictment. Feimster, who was being held in the Eastern Regional Jail on $60,000 bond, did not make a closing argument.

Feimster has been charged with one count of arson and one count of embezzlement, which stems from allegations that he used a county credit card to buy personal items from Wal-Mart. He previously served as a firefighter and ambulance rescue chief for South Berkeley Volunteer Fire Department.

During the hearing, Jones called Gary Collis, program manager of the Berkeley County Emergency Ambulance Authority, to the stand to testify about the embezzlement charge. Deputy Brad Dusek testified about the mobile home fire.

Feimster did not cross-examine either witness.

When asked whether he wanted to call any witnesses on his behalf, Feimster said he planned to call himself. When Miller asked him whether he understood that anything he said could be used against him, Feimster said he understood.

"I'm here to offer the actual real true testimony," he said after sitting down in the witness chair.

Feimster said that one night at Lamberts he spotted the fellow employee, whom he named, taking the items. Feimster said he gave the man a week to turn himself in, but that the man did not.

A couple of weeks later, Feimster's truck caught on fire, he said. Later his truck again was burned, along with two outbuildings near his mother's home on Arden-Nollville Road in Inwood, W.Va.

A week after that fire, Feimster said the man attacked him and hit his head several times with a metal clipboard. The man also pulled a gun and threatened to kill Feimster, Feimster testified.

After Feimster's mother's house was destroyed, the man confronted Feimster in a back room at Lamberts and again held a gun to his head and threatened his life, Feimster said.

Rather than tell police, Feimster testified that he lied to deputies and told them he had set the fires. He said he did not tell any friends and did not write about it in his journal, which he said has since disappeared.

When Feimster gave a statement to police a week ago, he said he set his mother's house on fire because he was upset with its sloppiness, Shackelford said. Feimster described in detail how he set the fire by lighting a roadside flare and throwing it in a kitchen garbage can, Shackelford said.

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