Informant claims arson was fourth attempt

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 2/26/20

VIENNA —During the arson investigation of the fire at the residential structure on Highway 28 W, Vienna, where six Vienna Volunteer Firemen were injured by a propane explosion and fire, the …

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Informant claims arson was fourth attempt

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VIENNA —During the arson investigation of the fire at the residential structure on Highway 28 W, Vienna, where six Vienna Volunteer Firemen were injured by a propane explosion and fire, the Maries County Sheriff’s Detective was told by a woman that Gary Travers had made four attempts to set the fire. Three prior attempts were failures, but the fourth one was successful.

In the probable cause report written by Sheriff’s Detective Kenneth Kilmer, which led to the arrest of Gary Martin Travers, Jr., 36, and charges of seven felonies from the incident, it states the woman told Detective Kilmer that Travers told her he had set the fire at the residence located at 13170 Highway 28 West Vienna. The Aug. 16, 2019, propane explosion knocked the residential structure off of its foundation and threw the fireman through the air and the flash fire caused second and third-degree burns.

In the report, it states Richard Dougherty, an inspector with the Missouri Propane Commission, tested the propane lines and they contained no leaks due to the pressure being at sufficient levels. The State Fire Marshal’s Office did discover a pour pattern in the dining room of the residence from an accelerant. At that time, the Fire Marshal ruled out the possibility of an accidental fire. The fire was intentionally set, arson committed, and the investigation began.

Maries County Sheriff Chris Heitman said he is the law enforcement officer who arrested Travers at his parents' home in Jefferson City. He thinks Travers may have had an idea Heitman was coming to arrest him as he had to wait a long time until he came home. He said Travers did not say much, “But his dad (Jack Oaker) was mouthy.” Once in the sheriff’s custody, Travers named the woman who had told the story of him telling her he’d set the fire.

The sheriff said Travers set the fire in an effort to collect insurance money.

Travers is charged with six counts of felony second-degree assault-special victim, and felony second degree arson-causing serious physical injury or death.

Travers was in the Maries County Associate Circuit Court on Tuesday morning in front of Judge Kerry Rowden. He was dressed in the Maries County Jail’s orange jumpsuit with cuffs on his wrists and ankles. He looked thin and older.

His bond is $100,000 and Maries County Prosecuting Attorney Anthony “Tony” Skouby is against a bond reduction. He said he believes Travers to be a danger to the community and that Travers had tampered with evidence during the investigation.

Travers told Judge Rowden he does not have an attorney but his mom is working on it. The judge suggested he apply for a public defender, saying, “I can bring you back here every week and I’ll ask you the same question—do you have an attorney?”

Travers said he was working prior to being arrested and he was in the hospital with pneumonia and was waiting to have lung surgery and now that’s been moved back.

Judge Rowden scheduled his setting for a preliminary hearing for March. Travers asked how he can request a bond reduction and the judge told him “get an attorney.”

Skouby said if he’d plead guilty he’d agree to an OR bond but the judge said they can’t do that because he is charged with felonies. Travers filled out the form for a public defender, but Matthew Crowell said he does not qualify as he and his partner own a home valued at $190,000 and a 2017 Jeep Wrangler. Judge Rowden told Travers he needs an attorney. Travers said he talked to an attorney who wanted $10,000 upfront because of all of the publicity with this case. Judge Rowden told him there are many attorneys who will take his case and for a lot less than $10,000. He suggested he get an attorney who can file a motion for a reduction of bond. Until then Travers will remain in the Maries County Jail.

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