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Former firefighter pleads not guilty in W.Va. arson case

November 02, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A former volunteer firefighter accused of starting a large barn fire in April in which another volunteer firefighter was injured pleaded not guilty to first-degree arson and other charges Monday in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

James L. Blackford III, 30, of 167 Laing Drive in Martinsburg, was indicted last month on felony counts of first-degree arson, setting fire to lands and causing serious injury during an arson-related crime.

His trial was scheduled for March 9 by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III.

Silver also granted Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely's request that Blackford be ordered to report to the Eastern Panhandle Day Report Center for random drug testing at his own expense as a condition of his $200,000 bond.

Blackford told investigators the April 7 fire started after he and another person ignited rubbing alcohol behind the barn at 1495 Williamsport Pike to heat crack cocaine in a smoking device made from a plastic bottle, according to a complaint filed by Assistant State Fire Marshal Patrick J. Barker.

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Blackford said he knocked the device from the other man's hands and it fell to the ground, catching grass on fire, according to Barker's complaint.

Baker Heights Volunteer Fire Department firefighter Kenneth Ayers was hospitalized after he was injured while battling the blaze.

Blackford also was injured, though less seriously than Ayers, when timber from a barn wall fell on the firefighters, according to Barker's complaint.

"This is a lifelong recovery for him," Games-Neely said Monday, referring to Ayers' rehabilitation.

Blackford, who was suspended from Bedington Volunteer Fire Department after his arrest, appeared in court Monday wearing civilian clothes.

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