Aaron J. Kalista makes his first appearance July 3 in Lewis County Superior Court in this Chronicle file photo.

One of Two Winlock Arson Suspects Pleads Guilty

By Natalie Johnson / njohnson@chronline.com

One of two men accused of setting a series of fires in Winlock earlier this summer pleaded guilty Friday in Lewis County Superior Court. 

Aaron J. Kalista, 33, was originally charged with second-degree arson, a felony, but pleaded guilty Friday to lesser charges of three counts of second-degree reckless burning, a gross misdemeanor.

“We feel after reviewing the evidence the reduction is appropriate to gross misdemeanors,” Kalista’s attorney, J.P. Enbody, said in court Friday. “I think they were primarily dumpster fires.”

Superior Court Judge Joely O’Rourke agreed with the joint sentencing recommendation of the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office and Enbody and imposed a sentence of 364 days in jail with 308 suspended, provided Kalista maintains law-abiding behavior and other conditions for 24 months.

He will receive credit for his 56 days in custody since his arrest and will be released. 

A second suspect, Brent Brooks,  31, is scheduled to plead guilty and be sentenced at 2 p.m. Sept. 1. 

“I think alcohol was an issue for both Mr. Kalista and the co-defendant,” Enbody said Friday. 

According to court documents, at about 4:14 a.m. on July 1, a Toledo police officer contacted Kalista and Brooks regarding a fire in the Winlock area when he received a report of another fire in the 200 block of Southeast First Street. 

Firefighters were on scene putting out a small fire that appeared to be intentionally set in a pile of construction material. 

At about 5 a.m., police received another call for a suspicious fire in a dumpster at the Winlock Post Office. As officers responded to that call, another fire was reported on First Street. At that location, wood products and grass were on fire.

That morning, police reviewed security footage that showed two men walking away from the scene of the third fire. The officer noticed the two men looked like Kalista and Brooks, who he had just contacted earlier that morning. 

Officers located the suspects and arrested them. 

Brooks reportedly admitted to starting the fires, according to court documents. 

“Brooks also stated on the recording that he felt like he was making a statement by starting the fires,” according to court documents. 

Enbody told the court Friday he believed Brooks was the “instigator” and his client was a “minor participant.”