Judge rejects bail for arson defendant

WOODSTOCK – A man accused of committing arson at the Woodstock Wal-Mart remained held without bond in Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail after an appearance in Shenandoah County General District Court on Friday.

Leonard Garris Jr., 24, of 249 Lakeview Drive, Woodstock, was arrested early Wednesday in connection with a small fire that authorities say could have been far more destructive if not for two store customers who grabbed a nearby fire extinguisher and put it out.

Shenandoah County Fire Marshal David Ferguson said Garris had already disappeared from the scene by the time the customers noticed the fire. Members of the Sheriff’s Office arrested Garris at a residence near his home about 24 hours later.

Ferguson said Garris used one of several cigarette lighters he had bought at Wal-Mart to start the fire on a piece of wood that was bundled in plastic. Solvents and other flammable materials were nearby.

“There would have been a whole lot more fire and smoke damage through the building,” if not for the quick response by the customers with the fire extinguisher, Ferguson said.

General District Judge Amy Tisinger denied a request from Garris’s attorney, assistant public defender Peter McDermott, for a secure bond of about $5,000.

State law carries a non-binding presumption of no bond for arson in an occupied building, but McDermott argued that his client’s current residence and family ties in the area and a nearly clean prior criminal record were among several reasons he deserved an affordable bond.

“This is a very public place,” Tisinger said of Wal-Mart, adding that “the nature of this fire in the vicinity of extremely combustible material” led her to decide against bond for Garris.

Ferguson said Garris is also facing additional charges stemming from a dumpster fire that broke out at the Hampton Inn a short time after the Wal-Mart fire, which was just across the street.

Firefighters quickly extinguished the dumpster fire but not before smoke seeped into the building, set off fire alarms and forced the evacuation of guests, Ferguson said.

Ferguson said authorities are grateful they were able to arrest Garris as quickly as they did.

“We were fearful it was going to continue,” Ferguson said of the fires that Garris allegedly set.

Garris is scheduled for a preliminary hearing at 11:15 a.m. Aug. 19.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com