The trial for a man accused of setting fire to a Surrey house while people were inside began Monday.
Timothy Ralph Berg, 54, is charged with arson and uttering threats in connection to an incident last October when a house near 142 Street and 114 Avenue was gutted by fire in the middle of the night.
At the opening of the trial in Surrey Provincial Court, Crown prosecutor Mike Fortino contended Berg had been calling acquaintance Debora Segal – one of the women in the house – throughout the day of Oct. 9, 2015 and when his calls weren’t answered, the tone of his messages changed.
He threatened to harm Segal and her friend Barbara Newman, but the two women didn’t take Berg seriously because they thought he was drunk, said the prosecutor.
“They thought these were just the ramblings of a drunk man,” Fortino told the court.
At about 11 p.m., a neighbour heard what sounded like a bottle rocket and though he saw grey smoke in Segal’s yard, didn’t see any fire. Soon after, the homeowner, Nathan Davidowicz, came home and went to bed, noticing nothing wrong with his house.
At 1 a.m. on Oct. 10, Berg again called Segal’s phone, Fortino said. Newman answered and Segal told her to say she’d call back in 10-15 minutes.
Berg, said Fortino, replied that Segal had five minutes to call back or he’d light the house on fire.
Segal returned the call but got no answer. She looked out the window and saw the porch on fire. As the fire spread, she, Newman and Davidowicz evacuated the home, as did nearby neighbours.
Fortino contended that as police were speaking with Segal outside, Berg called her cellphone again.
“He said… ‘I asked you to call and talk to me and you keep ignoring me and I told you I’d burn the house down if you didn’t f–––ing talk to me’,” Fortino told the judge.
The blaze caused extensive damage to the house, which has since been demolished. There was also significant water damage to neighbouring homes from fighting the fire.
Surrey RCMP Const. Andrew MacMillan was first to testify at the trial, saying that along with his clothing, police seized Berg’s cellphone and a pack of matches after his arrest. Three of the matches were missing from the pack, MacMillan said, adding the phone smelled like “burned firewood” when he removed it from a bag later. Berg, he said, was “fairly belligerent” when arrested, smelled of liquor and was slurring his words.
Berg remains in custody.
Instead of observing the trial from the glass prisoner’s box, he asked to sit alongside his lawyer, Jackie Percival. His request was granted by sheriffs, as long as he agreed to wear ankle shackles. He spoke to his lawyer throughout the proceedings, waving to a friend in the gallery when he came in and out of the courtroom.
The trial is scheduled to continue in February.