Three more men charged in Charles County arson

Police say more arrests are possible in costly fire that damaged 26 homes

December 19, 2004|By Michael Dresser and Ryan Davis | Michael Dresser and Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Three 20-year-old men, one a rookie firefighter, were arrested yesterday as state and federal authorities continued their investigation of the arson fires that caused more than $10 million damage to a Charles County housing development.

The young men charged yesterday with arson are acquaintances of 21-year-old Aaron L. Speed, who was arrested Thursday, said a source close to the investigation. Speed worked as a security guard watching over the development where 26 houses were destroyed or damaged.

The U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore identified the men arrested yesterday as Jeremy Daniel Parady of Accokeek, Michael McIntosh Everhart of Waldorf and Patrick Stephen Walsh of Fort Washington. All live within 15 miles of the fire scene.

Authorities said yesterday that the three new arrests did not conclude their investigation and that more arrests were possible. The fires Dec. 6 were set at Hunters Brooke, an enclave of $400,000 to $500,000 homes near Indian Head, about 35 miles south of Washington. Most of the houses were under construction when they were set ablaze in what authorities call the worst residential arson in state history.

The three suspects arrested yesterday are scheduled to appear tomorrow at U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, according to the Charles County Sheriff's Office.

Authorities did not disclose a motive yesterday, though Speed has said he was upset about how his employer, Security Services of America, treated him after the death this year of his infant son.

Parady - one of the three arrested yesterday - worked as a "riding member" of the Accokeek Volunteer Fire Department, according to the company's Web site. The company responded to the fires, though its officials would not say yesterday whether Parady helped fight the blazes. The Web site for the Prince George's County station offers accolades to Parady for his efforts in helping revive a woman who apparently overdosed on drugs on Oct. 23.

Officials at the station released a written statement yesterday acknowledging that an unnamed member of the fire company had been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation. The suspended member was a probationary worker, according to the statement.

A woman answered the door at the 900-square-foot cinderblock home where Parady lived and declined to comment.

A longtime local resident said the 50-year-old house where Parady lives is alternately vacant and filled.

Another Web site, which is purported to be Parady's, says that he previously attended McDonough High School in Pomfret, Charles County.

A former neighbor of Everhart said the young man cooperated when asked to turn down loud music. "He was always working on old cars on the driveway," said Scott Ackerman.

Everhart's family could not be reached for comment.

A man who answered the door at the home of the third suspect, Walsh, said, "We're 100 percent sure that he is innocent." The man identified himself as Walsh's father.

The arrests in the case began Thursday with Speed. He and his family, including his pregnant wife, have proclaimed his innocence.

In court documents filed in federal court, investigators allege that Speed gave them a supposedly hypothetical account of how the fires might have been set - using accelerant and a handheld propane torch - that proved strikingly close to how they believe arsonists ignited the homes.

Authorities wrote in the documents released Friday that Speed's cell phone records placed him at the scene of the fires, not at home asleep, as he initially said. They also found a small propane torch among the charred houses, the documents state.

Speed, who lives in Waldorf, told investigators that he knew of a "plan by others known to him to set a fire at the location," according to court documents.

The security guard had told others he wanted to be a firefighter and had recently gone on a ride-along with a local volunteer fire company.

The guard who was working at the time the fires were set has told authorities that he went home early that morning and was not there at the time of the crime, according to the documents.

Because the fires were set over 10 acres, authorities have said they did not believe one person acted alone.

Sun staff writer Greg Garland and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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