Four W.Va. Buildings Destroyed; Suspect Arrested

Aug. 10--MATOAKA -- A Mercer County man is behind bars today following his arrest Friday evening for "accidentally" setting the fire that destroyed four buildings on Barger Street in Matoaka, severely damaged another building and caused an estimated $4 million in damages.

Brandon Coomes, 29, of Lashmeet was arrested Friday evening on a charge of arson in the third degree as well as entering without breaking, according to Matoaka Police Chief John Sommers.

Sommers, himself, the assistant fire chief of the Matoaka Volunteer Fire Department, said that he launched the investigation while firefighters from throughout the region converged on the town to help extinguish the massive blaze.

"Witnesses saw the suspect leaving the building," Sommers said. After the suspect was identified, he questioned Coomes, but did not arrest him immediately. He and Officer Robert Akers of the Matoaka Police Department took additional statements and were assisted in their investigation by two agents from the West Virginia Fire Marshal's Office.

"We were really fortunate to be able to put this investigation together in about 6 hours and to make an arrest -- especially when we had such a large amount of damage," he said. Sommers said in Mercer County magistrate court that the estimate of the damages was $4 million.

Coomes appeared for his arraignment Saturday morning before Magistrate Mike Flanigan. The defendant told the court that he wanted a preliminary hearing, and asked the court to appoint counsel after stating that he did not have money to pay for a lawyer. Flanigan took some preliminary information concerning the defendant's assets, and agreed to appoint an attorney.

Sommers told the court that three families were left homeless as a result of the fire and two businesses were destroyed as well. The court explained that the crime of arson in the third degree carries a penitentiary term of 1 to 3 years in prison and the crime of entering without breaking has a potential 1-10 year prison sentence. "They are both felonies," Flanigan said.

Flanigan said he would set bond at one-quarter of the amount of the damages as a result of the fire, and set Coomes' bond at $1 million cash or surety. The court told the defendant his preliminary hearing would be within 10 days and ordered him to be detained at Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.

"With a police department our size, we were fortunate to be able to clear this investigation this soon," Sommers said. "We appreciate the help of the assistant fire marshals as well as the witnesses who came forward to help in the investigation."

Sommers said that he got "a full confession" from Coomes on Friday evening.

-- Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

Copyright 2014 - Bluefield Daily Telegraph, W.Va.

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