Veterans life insurance

Judge denies bail for alleged Booker Washington Heights arsonist

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – A Richland County judge has denied bail to a man accused of burning down a home in Columbia in September 2021.

Judge Jocelyn Newman denied bail to Michael Masterson McClellan, who faces charges of first-degree burglary and second-degree arson in connection with an incident that left the vacant home at 3412 Beaumont Avenue a total loss .

No one was injured in the fire.

RELATED STORY | Columbia police search for arson suspect in Booker Washington Heights fire

The Booker Washington Heights neighborhood suffered from a series of building fires in 2021, but the Columbia Police Department has not linked it to the incidents.

RELATED STORY | CPD is investigating multiple fires in the Booker-Washington Heights neighborhood
RELATED STORY | CRFD is investigating a fourth fire in the Booker Washington Heights neighborhood

McClellan remains at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center.

CPD previously arrested him in 2018 for arson and he entered into a plea deal for a probationed veterans treatment group.

Newman ruled after hearing testimony from owner Nicole Lavallee and Sgt. Erksin Moody. Both referenced McClellan’s story and concerns about fires in the community.

“The fires stopped, and once he was freed, the fires started again,” Moody said.

Lavallee expressed his sadness and anger over the loss of the home, something his family had spent time, money and memories into.

However, she also raised concern about the same fate happening to others.

“I’m just grateful that no lives were lost and I feel like with his obvious lack of impulse control our neighborhood is in danger and I, I just encourage you to keep our neighborhood safe .”

Defense attorney Haley Hubbard said McClellan maintains his innocence and has requested bail of less than $50,000 and a supervision program, so he can complete the veterans probation program and get a lodging.

“He denies any involvement in this crime, whatever it may be. He was really on a good path trying to make things better for himself and he was doing really well and I don’t see him trying to sabotage himself,” she said.

Judge Newman ultimately cited community safety in her decision.

“The danger Mr. McClellan poses to the community is slightly different, more immediate and urgent than the danger we typically see. The GPS monitor, if anything were to happen, would give the state evidence to help prove their case, but the match is already lit and the structure is already gone,” she said.

In an interview before the hearing, Lavallee said his family had been in contact with the city of Columbia about a grant to demolish the building.

City code enforcement previously reported to WIS that there was $115,997 available for demolitions in the Booker Washington Heights neighborhood following the fires.

Lavallee estimated the financial cost of the fire to be $60,000 to $70,000, due to a lack of insurance and the minimal amount of property that could be salvaged.

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