By Natalie Johnson / email@example.com
A Morton woman accused of burning her house down in 2015 has been charged in Lewis County Superior Court with first-degree arson.
Superior Court Judge Joely O’Rourke issued Kristin H. Skiles, 39, of Morton, a $25,000 arrest warrant after the woman failed to appear for her first scheduled hearing in the felony case on Tuesday.
Skiles appeared in Lewis County Jail custody on Wednesday, and had an opportunity to explain her predicament.
She explained that she now lives at a clean and sober home in Yakima, and is in outpatient treatment pursuant to a Lewis County District Court case.
“I’ll have six months clean in a week,” Skiles said.
In fact, Skiles was in Lewis County for a District Court hearing yesterday, and told the court Wednesday she had no idea she was also scheduled to appear in Superior Court, having never received the state’s summons.
“The state has known where she was,” said defense attorney Kevin Nelson, representing Skiles for her first hearing. Skiles was court-appointed counsel for following hearings.
Nelson said the Prosecutor’s Office should have been able to check Skiles’ court file and contact her probation officer to get her current address.
When Skiles learned of the warrant, she was already back in Yakima. She turned around, drove back to Chehalis and turned herself in last night, she said.
Nevertheless, O’Rourke granted the request from the Lewis County Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Brad Meagher to continue holding her on the $25,000 bail listed on the warrant.
“I was surprised this was a summons case given the seriousness of the case,” O’Rourke said. “I have great concerns for public safety.”
Skiles’ next court date is scheduled for March 9.
According to court documents, police and fire crews responded Dec. 20, 2015 to a house fire in the 200 block of Third Street in Morton.
When police arrived, flames were coming out of the home’s upstairs window. Skiles, who escaped the house before police arrived, reported that she was doing her hair when she accidentally knocked over an ashtray with a lit cigarette, according to court documents.
She said she thought the ashes were all out and went downstairs. Later, she said she heard the upstairs window blow out and realized the house was on fire.
The Morton Police Department and fire investigators with the Chehalis Fire Department continued to look into the incident. In January 2016, fire investigators reported that the fire was suspicious, but listed the official cause of the fire as “undetermined,” according to court documents. Investigators were unable to enter the burned portion of the house because of damage to the structure.
Police then interviewed Skiles’ roommates who lived with her in the house that burned. One roommate reported that the day of the fire, she came home in the morning to find that Skiles had nailed the doors shut.
She reported that Skiles was served an eviction notice from the executor of the estate that owns the house. The roommate reported that Skiles threatened to burn the house down, rather than let the estate’s executor take the home back, according to court documents.
She reported that Skiles then asked another person in the house for a lighter and approximately an hour later the house was on fire.
The roommate reported that when the house was on fire, Skiles said, “Boy, that cardboard goes up fast,” according to court documents.
Another officer interviewed a second person who spent time in the house, who reported Skiles had previously lit fires in the home.
A fire investigation conducted on behalf of the home’s insurance by a private company concluded that the fire could not have started with a discarded cigarette, as Skiles asserted. The company’s report concluded that if the fire started in the timeline provided by Skiles and witnesses, it must have started with a “handheld flame” rather than a cigarette, according to court documents.
Skiles was sent a summons to appear in court in 2017, more than a year after the original incident.
“It took us a long time to put it all together,” Meagher said.