Plea agreement made for Pine Harbor fire suspect - WCIV-TV | ABC News 4 - Charleston News, Sports, Weather

Plea agreement made for Pine Harbor fire suspect

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GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (WCIV) -- One of the men federally indicted after a fire killed three people last year has agreed to a plea deal and will join another man next week in federal court to change their not guilty pleas.

Gerald McCabe and Shonni Abernathy were federally indicted in July for manufacturing meth and exposing others to serious harm in connection to a fire at the Pine Harbor Apartments in Goose Creek. The investigation of the fire also led authorities to the discovery of a meth lab.

According to a plea agreement filed in court this week, Gerald McCabe pleaded guilty to two of three counts he was facing, conspiring to make meth and making meth.

McCabe faces at least 20 years in prison, but could spend the rest of his life behind bars. He also faces fines that could reach $8 million.

Shonni Abernathy's plea agreement has not been entered into court records, but a filing made Tuesday shows that U.S. Attorneys show that they are seeking increased penalties for the accused.

Citing drug convictions from 2006 and 2009, U.S. Attorneys are seeking to bump up Abernathy's sentence from a mandatory minimum of 10 years to life and an increase in the maximum fine from $10 million to $20 million.

Sixteen units were burned and about 46 people were left without a place to live, according to American Red Cross officials. Witnesses said flames as high as 40 or 50 feet flicked the sky, and smoke could be seen from miles across town.

Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury said the three victims were identified as 69-year-old Joseph Raeth, 4-year-old Samuel Garbe and 19-year-old Morgan Abernathy.

McCabe signed the plea agreement on Wednesday.

Agencies that took part in the investigation include the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office, the State Law Enforcement Division, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

None of the agencies involved have confirmed if the meth lab discovered was the cause of the massive apartment fire. However, as law enforcement officers testified in front of Congress last year about the meth "epidemic," it was learned SLED investigators believe the lab was at least a contributor to the massive blaze.

"Although the manufacturing of meth cannot be exclusively proven to be the cause of the fire, it appears based upon information present at the scene that it most certainly may have contributed to the spread of the fire," SLED's Max Dorsey told Congress.

"During this manufacturing process, something went wrong and a fire ensued, causing the destruction of 16 apartment units in the complex and the death of three innocent victims. This is the reality."

To read Dorsey's entire testimony, Click here.

During his testimony, Lt. Max Dorsey brought up statistics related to meth use in South Carolina and commented on the Pine Harbor fire.

"These people did nothing wrong. They were victims of circumstance. Their circumstance was they were in their apartment in close proximity to a meth lab," Dorsey testified. "Although the manufacturing of meth cannot be exclusively proven to be the cause of the fire, it appears based upon information present at the scene that it most certainly may have contributed to the spread of the fire."





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