Sunday, March 22, 2009
Bedford County burned house belongs to suspect in killing
The house's owner is charged with first-degree murder in the death of his estranged wife in 2007.
Courtesy of Alice Swain
Fire destroys a house near Smith Mountain Lake in Bedford County on Friday. The house belongs to Wesley Earnest, a former school administrator charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife.
The Bedford County home destroyed by fire Friday night belonged to Wesley Earnest, a former high school administrator charged with first-degree murder in his estranged wife's death, an official with the sheriff's office said.
The fire at his home on Clearwater Drive in Moneta still is being investigated, Capt. Mike Miller said.
Firefighters were called there about 6:45 p.m., and crews from Moneta, Sanders, Bedford County and Smith Mountain Lake took about an hour and a half to contain the fire, which destroyed the structure. A damage estimate is not available.
No one was home at the time of the fire and no firefighters were hurt, Moneta Fire Chief Jeremiah Calhoun said.
Earnest, 38, has been out of jail on bond since May.
He is charged in the death of his estranged wife, Jocelyn Branham Earnest, whose body was found in December 2007 at her Forest home. She had been shot once in the head.
A suicide note was found beside her body, but Bedford County law enforcement authorities say she had not written it.
Wesley Earnest is the former assistant principal of Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake and had worked previously for Bedford County schools.
Miller said investigators will be talking with Earnest "at some point," but would not say if they knew his whereabouts.
A neighbor said that by the time the fire department arrived on scene, the house was already engulfed in flames.
"There was nothing they could do" except protect a nearby house, said Alice Swain, who lives across the lake from Earnest's house.
"It was like a pile of sticks," she said. "It went up so fast."
When Swain and her husband noticed the column of black smoke rising from across the lake, they went out on their boat and took pictures and video.
Swain said the roof eventually collapsed.
"That's the one thing I hope I never have to see again," she said.