Man pleads guilty in 2014 hotel arson case

St. George Fire Department crews respond to a suspicious fire at Claridge Inn, St. George, Utah, July 5, 2014 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – An Arizona man accused of setting fire to a hotel room in 2014 pleaded guilty to aggravated arson Monday.

John Gerald Wilson Goss, 43, of Phoenix, appeared in 5th District Court Monday morning and waived his right to a preliminary hearing. Instead, he pleaded guilty to a second-degree felony charge of aggravated arson as part of a plea deal.

The plea deal amended the original felony charge of first-degree aggravated arson and a separate case involving a third-degree felony assault by prisoner charge was dropped.

The aggravated arson charge stems from a July 5, 2014, incident at the St. George Claridge Inn on Bluff Street. Firefighters responded to the report of a fire in one of the second-floor rooms and police became involved when arson was suspected.

Goss, who was listed as staying in the room, was subsequently arrested.

As the case progressed Goss was ruled incompetent to continue with court proceedings and was sent to the Utah State Hospital in November 2014. He was declared restored to competency by State Hospital mental health staff earlier this year and returned to Washington County.

This case has almost been two years to get to this point,” Goss’ attorney, Ryan Stout, said as he addressed the court. “I do believe the State Hospital has restored him to competency.”

Deputy Washington County Attorney Laina Arras said the state likely wouldn’t seek additional jail time for Goss, but instead look at issues related to Goss’ mental health. The state also requested a pre-sentencing investigation into Goss’ background be conducted, which Judge Eric Ludlow ordered be done.

Sentencing is scheduled for July 18.

When the original incident took place, guests staying in a hotel room next to the one Goss had rented began to smell smoke and alerted hotel staff.

Firefighters extinguished a smoldering fire in the room and came across signs of possible arson. At that point, the investigation into the incident was handed over to the police.

Investigators found the room in a state of disarray. According to police records, there were various spots in the room that appeared to have been intentionally set ablaze prior to the Fire Department’s arrival.

Burned matches and cigarettes were found on the floor and pieces of paper and tin foil were shoved into electrical sockets. The smoke detector in the room had also apparently been ripped off the wall and disabled.

Goss was listed as the guest renting the room and police found him soon after. Goss told police he hadn’t set any fires in the room, yet one may have ignited by accident. According to police records, Goss also said he accidentally set a trash can on fire.

As the fire set in the hotel room had the potential to cause serious harm to life and property – the room next to Goss’ was noted to be occupied at the time of the fire – Goss was charged with a felony for aggravated arson.

A preliminary estimate to damage done to the Claridge Inn was estimated at around $10,000.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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