Arson suspect to get mental evaluation

Published 8:24 pm Monday, August 30, 2021

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The man being held in jail for the alleged arson earlier this summer at the Suffolk Tower building downtown will undergo a mental evaluation to determine his competency to stand trial.

Herbert Boothe, 69, appeared in Suffolk General District Court via video from Western Tidewater Regional Jail, where he continues to be held without bond.

His attorney, assistant public defender LeRon Gilchrist, made a motion for Boothe to undergo a mental evaluation. With no objection raised, a new hearing was set for 9 a.m. Oct. 4.

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Boothe, who had lived on the fifth floor of the building in apartment 518, according to a criminal complaint, is charged with arson of an occupied dwelling in connection to the three-alarm fire that took place July 13, which displaced 118 residents and caused them to be housed in city hotels and find alternative housing.

Multiple calls from residents came into 911, and it also got a call from Atlantic Protect, the fire alarm monitor company, advising that the fire alarm on the fifth floor at the building at 181 N. Main St. was going off.

First Baptist Church Pastor David Edgell, who helped assist Suffolk Tower residents in the aftermath of the fire, said previously that one of two residents there who were members of First Baptist told him she had awakened and heard the alarm, grabbed her granddaughter and headed out of the building. They found black smoke by the time they got to the sixth floor, he said, where they found other residents crawling on their hands and knees down the stairs.

According to the criminal complaint, Boothe “admitted to sitting (sic) the fire in his apartment by lighting a chair on fire with a lighter.”

Besides being charged with arson, Boothe has been charged, according to other criminal complaints, with assault and battery for allegedly spitting in the face of a Suffolk Police officer, and attempted sexual battery for allegedly scratching someone in the chest and arm. Both incidents are alleged to have taken place at Sentara Obici Hospital, where Boothe was being treated after the fire.

Boothe had been denied bond during a July 22 hearing.

Earlier this month, the Suffolk Tower building was sold by Suffolk Tower Holdings LLC to Retreat at Harbour View LP for more than $3.5 million. It had bought the building in 2006 for nearly $1.7 million.