Arson trial begins for Everhart's owner

Kurt Steidley, who is accused of setting fire to Everhart’s on Missouri Boulevard on Jan. 1, 2011, is seated for the start of his trial Wednesday in Cole County Circuit Court.

Kurt Steidley, who is accused of setting fire to Everhart’s on Missouri Boulevard on Jan. 1, 2011, is seated for the start of his trial Wednesday in Cole County Circuit Court. Photo by Julie Smith.

His business had been closed only a week when it was damaged by a fire on New Year’s Day 2011.

Almost nine months later, prosecutors charged Kurt A. Steidley, now 53, Knob Noster, with second-degree arson for that fire.

Wednesday morning, a Cole County jury heard a video statement from Steidley — the owner of Everhart’s Sporting Goods, 2436 Missouri Blvd. — that the economic downturn of 2007-08, along with the opening of a Bass Pro Shop in Columbia, were primary reasons why he closed the business in 2010.

“When we opened in 2004, we were making money, but by 2010 we were showing a loss,” he said in the statement.

A going-out-of-business message posted on the store’s website in November 2010 included the comment: “It has been a rough year for the company, with no end in sight.”

The store last was open for business on Dec. 24, 2010.

Steidley said before the fire occurred, it was his plan to come back on Jan. 3 to look over what could be sold, then liquidate the inventory.

Before the fire, Steidley said he and his manager got a heater going to make sure a water line would not freeze. Other than that, there was no heat in the building.

The fire at the business was reported at 7:46 p.m. Jan. 1, 2011.

Fire crews found heavy smoke throughout the building, with fire burning near the building’s center.

No one was inside the business when the fire was discovered.

“I found out about the fire from my sister as I was getting into Sedalia, coming back from Jefferson City, the evening of the fire,” Steidley said in the video statement. “I thought she was joking at first, but she told me she wasn’t — so I called the fire department and they told me what was happening.”

Steidley said he spent the majority of New Year’s Day 2011 on his western Missouri farm and, at one point, fell several feet off a ladder and hit the back of his head.

“I did get a knot on the back of my head, but I didn’t lose consciousness, and kept on going until I got home,” he said.

After resting, he then drove back to Jefferson City to visit his mother.

As he was preparing to head out of town he called a friend, Max Parsons, who had done plumbing work for him at Everhart’s and other businesses he owns.

“As we talked I went to the business and checked the front door and smelled gas,” Steidley said. “He (Parsons) asked if I had anything to turn it off with and I didn’t.

“I went to another part of the building, but couldn’t smell it there. He (Parsons) said if I couldn’t smell it in other parts of the building it probably wasn’t a big deal.”

His statement, recorded for insurance purposes, continued “It was around that time that my head really began to start to throb — so I decided that Max was the expert and knew what he was talking about so I headed out, planning to go to the hospital in Warrensburg to get checked out.”

Cole County Prosecutor Mark Richardson told jurors in his opening statement that Parsons claims Steidley called him, saying he smelled gas and wondered how much should there be to blow up a building.

Richardson told jurors gas was running into the building off of a furnace when the fire occurred.

“It was later discovered that the drip leg had been removed from the furnace,” he said.

A drip leg is the part of a furnace or heater that catches condensation and debris. It helps prevent damage to integral parts of the heater. Gas flows through the pipe, while debris falls into the drip leg, preventing it from moving into the heater.

“If the fire had been allowed to go on longer, there could have been an explosion,” Richardson told the jury.

“I didn’t know what a drip leg was,” Steidley said in his video statement. “When we left the building on Dec. 30, we locked it up and I never smelled natural gas.”

Richardson contends that with business going down, Stiedley started the fire to get money back that he had lost.

Steidley said the fire destroyed the security cameras that were in place in the building, so no images of what went on inside were found.

Second-degree arson is a Class C felony.

If Steidley is convicted, he could get a prison sentence of up to seven years.

The trial will resume this morning.


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