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Arsonist in firefighter fatality is released from prison

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- An Alum Creek man who pleaded guilty last year in the death of a volunteer firefighter had the rest of his sentence suspended Monday so he can attend a drug rehabilitation program.

Charles Darren Roberts set a box on fire near a bridge in Davis Creek in December 2011. The blaze caught more than 100 railroad ties on fire, and Davis Creek volunteer firefighter Joey King fell to his death from the bridge while trying to fight the fire.

A grand jury indicted Roberts on charges of first-degree murder in connection to King's death in April 2012. In return for his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to reduce the murder charge to involuntary manslaughter. Roberts also pleaded guilty to two charges of arson.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman sentenced Roberts in August 2012 to up to six years in prison, the maximum allowed on those charges.

On Monday, Kaufman suspended the rest of Roberts' sentence, putting him on one year of probation and allowing him to attend a drug rehabilitation program through the Union Mission.

The involuntary manslaughter charge carried a one-year sentence. Roberts' attorney, John Carr, told the judge that Roberts, who had been in jail since December 2011, had completed his sentence for that charge and one of the arson charges. He would have been eligible for parole in September.

"Mr. Roberts very remorsefully and sincerely has served that sentence," Carr said.

Kanawha County assistant prosecutor Dan Holstein pointed to Roberts' lengthy criminal history and told Kaufman the sentence was fair. Carr said most of the other crimes his client committed revolved around his drug addiction.

Kaufman agreed Roberts should undergo drug treatment.

"After careful review of this case, I feel there needs to be a monitored component of drug and alcohol rehab, outside of the prison system, to make sure, as best we can, that this type of tragedy or something similar doesn't happen again," he said.

King's sister, Arietta King, of Rand, said after the hearing she was disappointed with the judge's decision.

"He should do his time," she said of Roberts. "He done the crime, he should do the time."

Arietta King was happily surprised, she said, that the state Division of Highways agreed to name a bridge on W.Va. 214 in Davis Creek after her brother.

A sign for the Joseph Albert "Joey" King Jr. Memorial Bridge was installed last week, she said.

"He used to travel across it every day," she said.

Kay Carson, King's common-law wife of 20 years, still drives the bridge daily and said the memorial is bittersweet.

"It's a constant reminder of him," she said.

Reach Kate White at 304-348-1723 or kate.white@wvgazette.com.


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