VAIL, Colorado - Andrew Wells now faces attempted murder charged because seven people could have burned to death when he allegedly set fire to an East Vail apartment building, prosecutors say.
The attempted murder charges were added Tuesday to a long list of felony and misdemeanor charges Wells faces for allegedly setting two arson fires. Wells made his second court appearance Tuesday afternoon.
District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said Wells, 31, of Eagle, was trying to avenge his broken heart. Wells reportedly thought his ex-girlfriend was in a fourth floor apartment when he allegedly started the fire on the bottom steps of the wood-frame building's exterior wooden staircase.
She was not; she had sought safety with friends in another community. But seven other people were in their apartments around 5 a.m. Sept. 22, when Wells allegedly set the blaze.
A resident in a neighboring building called 911 to report someone throwing rocks at a building. During the phone call, the neighbor told police he smelled smoke and walked outside into the dark and 90 feet across the lawn to investigate.
He spotted the flames on the wooden staircase leaping up to eight feet high. Vail police, who arrived seconds later, knocked down the flames with fire extinguishers they carry in their patrol vehicles.
Seven people were in their apartments when Wells allegedly set the fires. That's why prosecutors also charged him with attempted murder.
Wells' attitude was one of "universal malice" and "extreme indifference to the value of human life," prosecutors said in court documents filed Tuesday,
Seeing eye to eye
Wells' ex-girlfriend was in the courtroom Tuesday, and laid eyes on him for the first time since his arrest, Sept. 22.
Wells, 6-feet-1, 270 pounds according to his arrest records, towered over her and her counselor as he shuffled past just a few feet away, on the opposite side of a waist-high wooden partition in the courtroom.
A 2-foot chain jangled between his ankles as he quickly made his way from the heavy reinforced door leading from the jail, to the jury box where he took a seat in the back row and waited for District Court Judge Tom Moorhead to call him and his attorneys, local defense attorneys Jim Little and Terry O'Connor.
Wells' parents sat across the aisle in the gallery, watching as their son filed past dressed in his orange jail jumpsuit.
Wells glanced at his parents, then at the woman, and then back from his seat.
A few minutes later he smiled at his parents as he filed past and back to jail.
Moorhead presided over Tuesday's hearing in Eagle County Court, sitting in for Eagle Count Court Judge Katharine Sullivan. Two weeks ago, Sullivan set Wells' bond at $765,000 and sent him back to jail until he could raise the money. He remains in jail.
The case now goes directly to District Court where Wells will enter a plea. He appears at 9 a.m. Oct. 31.
Pattern of harassment
Wells allegedly harassed his ex-girlfriend for weeks before trying to burn down the building where she was living at the time.
The harassment started around Labor Day, building residents said.
The sliding glass door leading to his ex-girlfriend's apartment's fourth floor balcony had been shattered when a rock was thrown through it.
Days before the alleged arson fires, a Volkswagen Jetta burned in the night while it was parked outside an adjacent building. The car fire started in the wheel well on the front passenger's side and the car was completely destroyed.
Tires on vehicles in the parking lot had been slashed and vehicles vandalized over the past few weeks, residents said. Wells' ex-girlfriend's car had been broken into repeatedly over the last few weeks, reports said.
Vail Police had been keeping a close eye on the apartment complex for weeks, and had been there three or four times over the past several days, residents said.
Wells allegedly drove from his home in Eagle to the East Vail apartment complex.
He drove back to his home in Eagle where he was arrested later that day, reports said.
Wells allegedly tried to set two fires, one on an exterior corner of a neighboring building and the one on the staircase where his ex-girlfriend lived.
As Wells allegedly moved from one building to another, gasoline leaked from the can he carried from the spot of that first fire. The gasoline leaked onto the grass across the lawn and parking lot, and to the exterior staircase where the second fire was set.
The leaking can left a trail of dead grass and gasoline stains between the two buildings.
Vail Fire Department Fire Marshal Mike Vaughn said he could smell chemical accelerant as soon as he approached the stairwell to begin his investigation early in that Saturday morning.
"I walked to within 20 feet of the stairwell and I could smell something that should not be there," Vaughn said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.