Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Charges filed against four fire bugs for setting fire at Western Electric – in addition to earlier charges for two other fires


Charges continue to mount against a Graham man who was first arrested for his involvement in setting the November 12 fire at the former Culp Mill near his home in Graham.

The mill building was declared a total loss by Graham fire chief Tommy Cole after the November 12 blaze, which was the second major fire at the old mill building since October 2022.

Wayland Heath Phillips, white, male, 22, of 601 Pomeroy Street, Graham was in district court Thursday involving the newest charges for actions he allegedly took on November 24 at the former Western Electric plant on North Graham-Hopedale Road.

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Phillips was charged with discharging a firearm in the city of Burlington and with breaking and entering the Western Electric plant at 204 North Graham-Hopedale Road.

Phillips faces two charges of breaking and entering and two charges of setting fires for his role in setting fires at the Culp Mill building and also at a house on Apple Blossom Lane in Green Level the following night.

Three additional charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor were subsequently filed this week for his influence on three juveniles, who have also been charged with their participation in both crimes, as well.

The discharging a firearm case apparently stemmed from shooting a mirror inside the former Western Electric plant with a handgun, according to the description of his actions read in district court on Thursday.

The date of the alleged offense corresponds to the same date on which one of the teenagers – who is also charged with breaking and entering and setting both the Culp and Green Level fire – was charged with setting fire to a vacant storage building (identified as located at 204 North Graham Hopedale Road in Burlington, which is the address of the former Western Electric building, at 11:30 p.m. on November 24.

Giovanni Jesus Gonzales Cruz, 14, Hispanic male, made his first appearance in juvenile court Tuesday morning via a video hearing, as he is being held at an undisclosed juvenile detention center.

Phillips is being represented in all of his cases by Todd Russell, who was appointed to represent him earlier this week.


The Burlington police have filed still additional charges against Phillips on Friday: one count breaking and entering (felony) and one count burning certain building (felony) from November 12 at the former Western Electric building.

The other two juveniles involved in the Graham fire – Miguel Diaz Centeno, 13, and Christian Najera, 15 – have now also been charged with setting a fire at the former Western Electric plant.  Phillips and  Giovanni Jesus Gonzales Cruz, 14, had already been charged.

The Burlington Police Department did not include the names of the juveniles in its press release about their charges (“petitions” in the parlance of juvenile crimes), but said they were the same suspects who had previously been identified by the Graham Police Department and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office for their involvement in the fires at Culp Weaving on November 12 and at a house in Green Level on November 13.

The Culp and Green Level charges against the teens were outlined during their video appearances in juvenile court on Tuesday.  [See separate story in this week’s edition.] Centeno’s charges for the Western Electric file were also stated during his appearance, also by video, Tuesday.

The Burlington Police Department described the damage from the fire at Western Electric as damaging one interior room but did not spread to other parts of the building.

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