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ST. CHARLES, Ill. (CBS) – An Elgin man is now on trial, charged with causing a fire that severely damaged the home of his own parents as he burned his girlfriend’s clothes in a fire pit.
James R. Beavers Jr., 33, is charged with two counts of aggravated arson, a class X felony. He also faces an assortment of other charges – including obstructing a firefighter and obstructing a police officer – in the Nov. 19, 2009 incident.
The fire at 517 Cumberland Trail in Elgin was reported as his mother, Terri, was picking up his children from school. His 2-year-old son was strapped into a highchair in the home’s kitchen when the fire broke out, authorities said.
Officials also allege he fought with firefighters and police when they arrived to fight the fire.
In an interview with police following that fire, James Beavers Sr. said that Beavers Jr., his girlfriend, Heather Saletri, and their six children and had been living at the house for about two weeks before the fire occurred, authorities said.
A tape of James Beavers Sr.’s interview with police was played in court Monday to dispute what the elder Beavers said on the stand. He said that he was not aware that “Jimmy,” as the younger Beavers is known to family, was burning Saletri’s clothes and underwear in an outdoor fire pit.
But in the interview with police, the tape indicated, he said he knew his son had carried armfuls of clothes up to the fire pit in the backyard from the couple’s basement bedroom. The day before the fire, Beavers Jr. had shown his parents texts and other phone records that he believed had come from other men to Saletri’s phone.
“He had been drinking and was pissed because he found out Heather was cheating on him,” said Elgin police Detective Brian Gorcowski, referring to an interview he had with Beavers Jr. the day of the fire. Beavers Jr. told police he was burning the clothes because he did not know if other men had seen her in them, particularly the underwear.
“Everything he could find, he was trying to burn,” Gorcowski said.
Charred clothing and ashes were found in the backyard fire pit.
When the house fire — which started in the basement bedroom — broke out, only Beavers Jr. and the son, Braeden, were at home, authorities said. “He told me, logically, he must have started the fire,” Gorcowski added.
He and another detective had just finished interviewing Beavers Jr. when he asked a jailer to let him speak to them again. At that point, Beavers Jr. told police he had lit a cigarette using a “piece of fire stick” later identified as Fatwood fire starter, then threw the stick on top of the bed and clothing piled there.
The next day, however, he told police he burned a letter from Saletri and that that might have started the fire.
He denied several times, however, that he would start a fire to damage his parents’ home, Gorcowski said under cross-examination by defense attorney Liam Dixon.
The trial was to resume Tuesday.
The Elgin Courier-News contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire