Apartment dweller charged with arson

CHESTERTOWN — A man who was living in an apartment of a multi-use building that investigators determined had been intentionally set on fire has been charged with first- and second-degree arson, according to court records and a news release from the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Julian L. Cookerly, 32, of Chestertown is being held without bond in the Kent County Detention Center.

He also is charged with second-degree malicious burning and malicious destruction of property having a value more than $1,000.

Cookerly, who was taken into custody Tuesday, has a preliminary hearing set for April 15 in the District Court for Kent County. At that time a judge will determine if there is probable cause to believe that Cookerly committed the offenses.

The charges stem from a Sept. 27, 2023 fire at 103 Church Alley in downtown Chestertown.

Cookerly lived in the rear of the building, and was at home when firefighters arrived.

The building also housed Open Doors Partners in Education and Kit-Care Construction.

Due to smoke damage, both businesses had to relocate.

Investigators quickly determined that the fire was “incendiary,” according to an OSFM news release on Sept. 28.

A warrant for Cookerly’s arrest was issued Dec. 7.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Shane McKinney served the warrant on Tuesday, March 19.

In the application for statement of charges, McKinney, who was on the scene the day of the fire, reported that Cookerly’s apartment “had light to moderate areas of soot staining spread throughout with heavier staining near the bathroom and laundry room.”

Fire damage was noted on the left side of the doorway entering the laundry room. The wall was 2 feet wide and stretched from the floor to the ceiling. This area received fire and thermal heat damage, according to the charging document. The gypsum board had been burned away, leaving only the wooden wall studs exposed.

The wall studs received heavy fire damage, causing deep charring and blistering, McKinney reported.

The fire traveled up the wall and penetrated the bathroom wall, causing fire damage to the fiberglass shower/bathtub.

A second area of fire origin was the bedroom closet, located on the other side of the structure. Fire damage was isolated to the closet with minimal damage, according to the statement of charges. The fire originated on a cardboard box on the closet floor.

The closet door had been shut after the “ignition” of the fire, according to the charging document; due to lack of oxygen, the fire burned itself out.

A witness told DSFM McKinney that he saw smoke at the rear of the building and that when he opened the apartment door he was met with heavy smoke.

The witness told investigators that he observed fire in the laundry room.

Cookerly was laying on a couch in the apartment, and initially refused to leave, according to the witness.

Subsequently, Cookerly was assisted out of the apartment.

He was transported by ambulance to an area hospital for evaluation.

No other injuries were reported.

According to a March 19 news release from the Office of the State Fire Marshal, the fire caused damages throughout the apartment and minor residual damage to the businesses, which totaled about $25,000.

Both businesses in the building were occupied at the time of the fire.

The Evening Enterprise previously reported that one of the principals of Open Doors called 911 shortly after 2 p.m. on Sept. 27 after seeing smoke coming from the apartment area in the rear of the building.

Chestertown Volunteer Fire Company Chief John “Otis” Darling, who happened to be in the downtown Chestertown area, was the first on the scene, arriving in the fire company’s utility vehicle.

Chestertown VFC was the primary responding agency.

Assisting were firefighters from Millington, Betterton, Rock Hall, Church Hill and Crumpton.

Other responders included Kent-Queen Anne’s Rescue Squad, Kent EMS and the Chestertown Police Department.

According to the Chestertown VFC Facebook post, Delmarva Power shut off electric service to the building and Chestertown Utilities responded to turn off the water because there was damaged plumbing.

Firefighters used the hydrant near the wrought iron fence surrounding the county courthouse.

The fire was placed under control at 2:51 p.m.

Shortly after 4 p.m. Chestertown VFC equipment and personnel were back in the fire station.

Investigators with the OSFM responded to the scene on Sept. 27 and Sept. 28.

Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation online records identified Richard Cookerly of Chestertown as the property owner.

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