Suspects went house to house setting fires, court papers say

6 men now are charged in Charles County arsons

December 21, 2004|By Stephanie Desmon, Greg Garland and Gus G. Sentementes | Stephanie Desmon, Greg Garland and Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

The men who burned a Charles County development of half-million-dollar homes met before dawn in the parking lot of a nearby Wendy's restaurant, where they collected their gas cans and drove together to the site, kicking in doors and methodically setting house after house ablaze, according to court documents released yesterday.

The papers say one of the men charged in the $10 million arson gave a detailed account of how four of them - and unidentified others - spent the early morning of Dec. 6 planning and lighting the fires that damaged or destroyed 26 homes under construction in the Hunters Brooke subdivision near Indian Head.

Jeremy D. Parady, 20, a volunteer firefighter who works for a security alarm company, allegedly told investigators that the men gathered at the Wendy's in Waldorf and loaded cans of gas and kerosene and a drum containing "an unknown, bitter-smelling liquid" into a car trunk.

At Hunters Brooke, they dumped the accelerants inside each home, poured a trail to the door and ignited it. Then they got back in the car, drove ahead several houses and repeated the process, the documents say.

The account is part of a seven-page complaint released yesterday as Parady and two other men charged over the weekend appeared for the first time in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. A security guard at the development, Aaron L. Speed, 21, was arrested Thursday.

Two more men, Roy T. McCann, 22, of Waldorf, and Michael E. Gilbert, 21, of Fort Washington, were arrested late yesterday, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Baltimore. McCann and Gilbert are scheduled to appear today in federal court in Greenbelt.

All six men are charged with arson.

Authorities have said the investigation is continuing and that more arrests are possible.

There has been speculation that the arsons were racially motivated - the suspects are white and most of the families that were to move into the homes are black - but officials stressed yesterday that they have not determined a motive.

So far, only Speed's statements to investigators provide any hint. He allegedly told them he was upset that the security company he worked for didn't show enough sympathy after the death of his 10-week-old son in April.

Speed is scheduled to have a bail hearing today. Three other suspects are to have hearings Thursday.

Lawyers for Speed and Michael M. Everhart, 20, have declined to comment. But attorneys for Parady and Patrick S. Walsh, 20, said yesterday that their clients are innocent.

Parady's court-appointed attorney, Tim Sullivan, told reporters after yesterday's hearing that he sees no reason why his client should not be released.

"He's a volunteer firefighter who's out to save lives and protect property," Sullivan said. "He's innocent of the charges, and we will prove that in court."

William Purpura, Walsh's court -appointed attorney, said: "Right now, I've got an innocent young man that I want to get home."

According to the complaint released yesterday, Parady told investigators that his job was to serve as "wheels" for the operation. He allegedly said he drove for a group that included Speed, Everhart and Walsh, and that those men set the fires.

The complaint, a sworn affidavit by Christopher J. Trainer, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, says: "Parady stated ... that a second vehicle and several others of his acquaintance were also present at the site and also participated in setting the fires."

Speed, who reportedly gave investigators a hypothetical account very similar to what authorities say actually occurred, claimed to know of a plan by Parady to set the fires and said he told others how to access the site, the documents say.

When first contacted at his workplace, the alarm company ADT, Parady was asked by federal agents why he thought they wanted to speak to him. He wondered initially if it was about a firearm stolen from a job site. Then he allegedly asked if it was about the Hunters Brooke fires.

The men charged are part of a large group of friends and acquaintances known to hang out in the parking lot of the Wendy's on U.S. 301 in Waldorf. The drive-through closes at 2 a.m., and they often stay until they get kicked out, especially in summer, said Brandon Wilson, 20, a friend from LaPlata.

Wilson was outside the Charles County sheriff's office in La Plata yesterday afternoon waiting for a friend. He said he cooperated with investigators, who asked him questions and searched his car before releasing him.

In the courtroom yesterday, friends and family of Parady, Everhart and Walsh declined to speak to reporters. One woman ripped up a reporter's business card, saying: "There's my comment." Parady's fiancee, Mary Black, held her face in her hands and wept softly when he appeared.

Outside the courthouse, Jacques Chevalier held a sign reading "Krazy Krackers Kill." Chevalier, who is black, said he believes the suspects set the fires because they were "jealous people who could not afford houses" like the ones in Hunters Brooke.

The protester taunted supporters of the accused as they huddled in a corner of the frigid courtyard smoking cigarettes. A relative of Parady's had to be restrained from lunging at Chevalier.

To view the complaint, see www.baltimoresun.com/complaint.

Sun staff writer Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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