James Hunt recorded this video as he approached a fire burning at the base of the Davie Poplar on the campus of UNC Thursday afternoon. Shortly after an explosion from erupted from the fire, the voice of a man shouting "Hail Satan' can be heard. James Hunt
James Hunt recorded this video as he approached a fire burning at the base of the Davie Poplar on the campus of UNC Thursday afternoon. Shortly after an explosion from erupted from the fire, the voice of a man shouting "Hail Satan' can be heard. James Hunt

Orange County

Orange County judge leaves UNC fire suspect’s bail at $200K – for now

By Tammy Grubb

tgrubb@heraldsun.com

November 22, 2017 02:30 PM

HILLSBOROUGH

An Orange Countyjudge left bail in place Wednesday for the man accused of setting UNC’s Davie Poplar tree on fire until more information is available about outpatient treatment options for him.

Joshua Daniel Edwards, 24, of Durham, is charged with six felony counts of malicious use of explosives to inflict injury, malicious use of explosives to damage property, assembling a weapon of mass destruction, setting fire to grass or grassland, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, and filing a false police report, Young said.

Edwards has been held in the Orange County jail under $200,000 bail since being released from involuntary mental commitment to UNC Hospitals on Nov. 16.

Assistant Public Defender Natasha Adams asked the court Wednesday to reduce Edwards’ bail and release him under supervision pending a trial. Edwards appeared on camera from the Orange County jail. His father was in the courtroom for the hearing.

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Edwards’ family would like to take him home to Davidson County, where he would receive treatment for mental conditions that may have surfaced in the last couple of years, Adams said. A psychologist visited him in the jail on Tuesday to assess his safety, she said, and the family wants to make sure he has the right diagnosis and medications.

Joshua Edwards

“It is our position that anything that Mr. Edwards may or may not have done on this particular day was a result of psychosis,” Adams said.

Several witnesses reported seeing Edwards set fire to a backpack and a guitar beside the university’s landmark Davie Poplar and walk away on Nov. 2, according to Orange County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman.

UNC professor burned by fire and explosion, suspect arrested

UNC professor Dan Reichart tries to extinguish a fire allegedly set by a man who was later arrested when a device explodes at the base of the Davie Poplar on the UNC campus Thursday afternoon, Nov. 2, 2017. Reichart is being treated for burns, and the suspect is in custody and being evaluated.

Video by Dawn Goodfriend, Photo by Evan White

UNC Professor Dan Reichart, who discovered the small fire, was injured after he walked up to kick dirt on it and put it out. Nieman said a camping fuel canister inside the backpack exploded, causing “fairly substantial” first- and second-degree burns to Reichart’s arms and face.

The fire also scorched but did not permanently harm the Davie Poplar, estimated to be over 300 years old.

UNC Public Safety caught Edwards at the scene, Nieman said. Edwards told at least one investigator that he had a gasoline canister with a wick in it in his car in Carrboro, according to an arrest warrant. The Carrboro Police Department evacuated and cordoned off most of the downtown Carrboro area until later that night and called in the Durham County bomb squad to detonate the car’s trunk.

Carrboro police said they did not find anything suspicious in the car. Nieman said Edwards wrote a letter to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt after the incidents and claimed responsibility for the fire.

Nieman asked the judge to leave Edwards’ bail in place Wednesday. The felony charges Edwards faces could bring him an active sentence in jail, Nieman said.

“We consider this a very violent and dangerous act and are concerned that Mr. Edwards is a danger to the public and perhaps to himself,” Nieman said.

District Court Judge Beverly Scarlett agreed with Nieman but said the court could consider a lower bond at a future hearing. Edwards already has been ordered, if released on bail, to stay away from campus except when seeking medical treatment. Scarlett set a new court date for him of Dec. 4 and said she wants to see an individualized treatment plan.

“As soon as this court or anyone sitting is provided with stepdown recommendations and a transfer of services, his bond can be reviewed again,” Scarlett said. “At this time, I have very little more than I had when I saw him before, except there is a possibility for him to get treatment in his hometown and his parents are willing to take him.”

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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Bernard Thomas bthomas@heraldsun.com