Rockford man sentenced for setting church on fire

Edward Wash, who set three fires within two hours of each other in September 2020, was released from custody in late March.
Rockford man sentenced for setting church on fire
Rockford man sentenced for setting church on fire(WIFR)
Published: Jul. 23, 2021 at 6:36 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - A 29-year-old Rockford man gets four years probation for his role in three separate fires last fall; one of those fires destroyed the former Metro Christian Centre Church at the corner of Walnut and Kishwaukee streets.

Edward Wash spent 202 days in jail as he waited for his trial and sentencing. He admitted setting the fires, saying he did it to get Hollywood’s attention.

On Wednesday Sept. 2, 2020, the Rockford Fire Department responded to three separate fires within hours of each other, all started by Wash. The first fire happened at the church at 6:24 p.m., then around 8 p.m. a fire was reported at an abandoned building at 313 7th St., followed by a dumpster fire at 125 South Madison St. around 8:09 p.m.

Associate judge Debra D. Schafer sentenced Wash to probation, ordered him to refrain from any drug/alcohol use and gave him 180 days in the Winnebago County Jail, which he previously served.

“You need to do better,” Schafer said.

State prosecutor Ali Friend called Rockford Fire Department arson investigator Matt Cordonnier to recall what he saw. Cordonnier said the only way to extinguish the church fire was to demolish the building, which took about 9.5 hours to suppress. The building had been vacant for some time and was built pre-1900s according to record. No one was believed to be in the building at the time of the fire.

Cordonnier said witnesses gave a description of the suspect and claimed he threw rocks at the windows to gain entrance to the church. Security cameras caught Wash carrying bags, some that contained bottles of bleach, as the church burned.

Wash’s mother Rebecca Gary also took the stand. She found out about the incident weeks after she moved to Lakewood, Fla. from Rockford. As a result, she moved back to Rockford to help Wash with his mental health issues, but she says Wash didn’t want help. Gary says she, herself, has dealt with post traumatic stress and bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression for more than nine years. Gary said Wash talked and laughed to himself, and walked outside without socks or shoes. She added that he spent a lot of time in his room listening to music.

Defense attorney Steven Lee pushed for Wash to be put on probation. Lee argued that while arson is a serious offense, nobody was hurt because the building wasn’t occupied. Since being released from custody, Wash hasn’t run into any trouble with the law and Lee believes an probation officer could offer Wash the structure he needs to follow through to deal with his mental health issues.

Schafer concluded probation for Wash is best because while arson is dangerous and people along with firefighters could have been hurt in the fires, she knew Wash has the ability to stay out of trouble and wanted him to succeed to keep the community safe. Schafer agreed that a probation officer should hold Wash more accountable to make a change and require him to take his medications. However, the motivation to seek help has to come from Wash, not Gary or herself.

If Wash is found in violation of his probation, he would face 3 to 7 years in prison for each count and a fine of up to $25,000.

The defendant is due back in court the afternoon of Wednesday September 1st at 1:30 for a follow-up appearance.

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