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Man enters no contest plea in 2003 Hardee's fire

August 11, 2005|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A West Virginia man scheduled for trial next week on charges of setting a fire that caused $513,000 in damage to a Shippensburg, Pa., fast food restaurant entered a no contest plea Wednesday in Franklin County Court to arson and theft charges and received parole and probation totaling almost 12 years.

Eric Christopher Barney, 27, of Falling Waters, W.Va., was ordered by Judge Richard J. Walsh to pay $80,000 in restitution to the insurer of the Hardee's restaurant destroyed in the June 22, 2003, fire and ordered to undergo a gambling addiction evaluation.

"The court believes gambling is wrapped up in a couple of thefts," Walsh said.

Walsh gave Barney 167 days to 23 months in the county prison and 10 years on probation. Barney, who was out on bail, had spent that many days in jail and was placed on parole.

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Because it was a no contest plea, Barney was not required to make a statement of guilt in court, but Assistant District Attorney T.R. Williams listed evidence he was prepared to present at trial, including a prior conviction for theft from another restaurant.

Williams said Barney was the assistant manager of Hardee's and closed the restaurant about 11 p.m. on June 21. The fire was reported about 4:45 a.m. on June 22 and evidence showed it had been intentionally set in trash cans at the front counter and office, he said.

When firefighters arrived, they found the restaurant's back door was unlocked, Williams said. The safe was locked, but $900 was missing, he said.

After closing the store, Williams said Barney and a friend went to Charles Town (W.Va.) Races & Slots, where Barney lost about $200, Williams said.

Shortly before the fire, witnesses saw a silver Mustang with loud exhaust pipes drive away from Hardee's with its lights off, although the witnesses could not identify the driver, Williams said. Barney recently had agreed to buy a vehicle fitting that description from a friend, Williams said.

Fellow employees were prepared to testify that Barney was "unusually cold in reaction to the fire" when he returned the restaurant later on June 22.

Barney, formerly of Greencastle, Pa., also left Pennsylvania when he learned charges were filed against him, but later turned himself in, Williams said.

Williams said he would have introduced as evidence Barney's 2001 conviction in Washington County for theft from a Hagerstown McDonald's where he was assistant manager. Barney had been given an eight-year sentence, with seven years and four months suspended, he said.

Williams said Barney had pleaded guilty to one of two theft counts for allegedly tampering with video surveillance equipment at McDonald's and stealing cash.

The insurers had paid the owners of Hardee's $251,000 for the fire damage and Williams told Walsh none of the parties were seeking any further restitution.

Barney told Walsh he was unemployed, having recently left a job delivering pizzas. His attorney Brian Manchester said Barney "fully intends to work full time to pay this off as soon as possible."

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