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Jacksonville fire hearing brings probable cause

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At a preliminary hearing in district court Monday for the mother and son charged with arson of a Jacksonville apartment unit, it was concluded that sufficient evidence was found to determine probable cause.

Bradley Tate Moore and his mother, Gayla Sue Moore, were charged with arson Nov. 15 in connection with a fire Nov. 7 that was determined to have been intentionally set to the “I” building of Pheasant Run Apartments after an investigation pointed their direction. 

Judge Randy Moeller determined the state had brought forth enough evidence of probable cause to bind the case to a grand jury.

Bradley Moore sat behind a glass partition near the front of the courtroom, while Gayla sat in the pew benches behind the bar separated from her son. Her attorney sat with her during the hearing. 

Jacksonville Fire Marshal Chris Collins headed the initial fire investigation and was called to testify to report his findings to the court. Collins has spent the last 25 years in fire service and 15 of that as a certified fire investigator. 

Asked if his findings were that the Nov. 7 fire was intentionally set, Collins said, “without question.” 

Collins told the court of the textbook “pour patterns” found in the neighboring unit adjacent to the Moore’s and said the distinct pattern was very defined. 

Collins said the majority of the evidence in the Moore’s unit of I2 was completely destroyed by fire, with a lot of fallen debris from the level above collapsing onto the main point of origin below. 

Though most of the unit was debris-covered and too damaged, Collins noted that there was a distinct “V”pattern around a cupboard in the main living area, pinning that as the point of origin. 

The building had a total of 8 units, with 7 of those units rented out. A total of 13 people inhabited the building excluding the Moores, according to Collins.

Collins said multiple samples from the charred remains had been taken and sent to the state lab to be processed. 

Collins said Gayla had made statements to the police that a former tenant who recently moved from apartment I6 had access to a second key to her apartment — with which they used to break in and set fire to their apartment in an attempt to kill them. 

Collins said that apartment I6 had been vacant for more than two months, and the prior tenants’ alibis had been verified. 

From interviews with other occupants both from the “I” building and other surrounding occupants, multiple people had said they heard the Moores make verbal statements that they would burn the apartment down, according to Collins. 

The apartment managers had placed a formal complaint against the two, which they had been notified of a few days prior to the incident. 

Witnesses claim to have seen the Moores moving some of their belongings and placing them into their vehicle days before the fire occurred, despite their rent being paid out for the month, Collins said. 

Gayla sat in the courtroom shaking her head and making small noises of disapproval as Collins spoke. Bradley showed no emotion.

Gayla was said to have filed a claim with her State Farm renters insurance the very same morning of the fire. 

Collins said Bradley made a statement to the police claiming he had received care by EMTs at the scene, but that claim was determined to be false. 

According to Collins, the Moores left the scene and shortly arrived at the Jacksonville Safety Complex where they flagged down an officer. Prior to any prompting, both quickly made the claim, “we didn’t do it,” without that question being asked. 

The Moores did not call the police at the scene, and Collins said he assumed they did not knock on any doors to alert anyone of the fire. 

Tenants had trouble escaping the second floor and could barely crawl down the stairs as fire bellowed above their heads. Two of the upstairs tenants were injured from having to jump from the second story to escape the flames. 

The Moores’ attorney declined to comment and a trial date has not been set yet. Each is being held with a $30,000 bond.