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Arson Case Briefs

provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
for more information on this Brief, contact:
ATF, Arson and Explosive Programs Division - (202) 927-7930


H.L. Davis & Co.
Rotan, Texas
October 17, 1995


A. IN: 53240-96-0015 L

B. CASE AGENTS: Jaime Lopez, Kelton Thornton

C. FIELD DIVISION/OFFICE: Dallas/Lubbock

D. PHONE: 806-798-1030

E. PROSECUTOR:

William Mateja
Assistant United States Attorney
Lubbock, Texas

F. SYNOPSIS:

On October 17, 1995, an arson occurred at the H.L. Davis & Co. clothing store at 116 W. Sammy Baugh Avenue in Rotan, Texas. The H.L. Davis store was a retail clothing store that was the largest commercial business in the rural town. The fire resulted in the total loss of H.L. Davis & Co. and two other commercial businesses. Damages were estimated to be in excess of $1 million. A local citizen who was assisting the Rotan Volunteer Fire Department during the fire fighting operations was killed when a brick wall collapsed on him. Two Rotan volunteer firemen were also seriously injured when the wall collapsed. The fire destroyed a large section of the downtown area of Rotan, Texas, which had a significant economic impact on that small community.

G: CHARGES:

United States Code

Title 18, Section 371, Conspiracy

Title 18, Section 844(I), Arson

Title 21- Conspiracy

Title 21, Section 841(a)(1), Distribution and Possession with Intent to Distribute Methamphetamine

H. EVIDENCE:

1. William Day opened the H.L. Davis & Co. store in 1931. It operated as a department store and was by all accounts a profitable and successful business until 1990 when the majority of the business was turned over to William Day's 43-year-old son, Hank Day, who had been involved in the business intermittently over the previous 15 years. William Day turned the business and inventory over to Hank and required nothing other than $1,000 a month rent on the building.

2. Since 1990, the H.L. Davis store's business and sales had been declining, and its debt had substantially increased. In April 1995, even though sales had steadily declined, Hank opened a second retail clothing outlet in Lubbock, Texas. Hank borrowed a large sum of money to open this second business, and sales in the store were dismal.

3. Hank Day had a history of narcotics use and arrests, and he associated with known narcotics users and traffickers in the Rotan area. Hank also made frequent trips to Las Vegas and other gambling resorts. During 1994 and 1995, Hank developed a close association with Dale Wayne Eaton, who was a known methamphetamine trafficker in the Rotan and West Texas areas. Hank invested large sums of money in Dale Wayne Eaton's narcotics trafficking operation. Dale Wayne Eaton purchased large quantities of methamphetamine and transported the drugs from California to Texas.

4. By midyear 1995, Hank Day had fallen drastically behind in payments to wholesalers and could not pay them. In September 1995, he used borrowed money to pay off debtors.

5. In July 1995, Hank Day told a business associate and several friends that he was going to have to get rid of the store in Rotan because it was too complicated, was not doing well financially, and because he wanted to open smaller stores in bigger cities. Dale Wayne Eaton suggested that he burn it for the insurance.

6. On October 16, 1995, Hank Day made plans for Donald Bilbo to remove several pieces of antique furniture from the store. Late that evening, Donald and Hank removed the antique furniture from the store and took it to Donald's residence. Donald's wife, Peggy Bilbo, assisted with full knowledge that they were moving it to keep it from burning. The Bilbos were also given approximately $2,000 worth of new clothes.

7. On October 16, 1995, Hank Day and Donald Bilbo were seen at the store late in the evening and were later seen by several witnesses unloading several pieces of antique furniture at the Bilbo residence.

8. At approximately 8:30 p.m. on October 16, Hank Day purchased 5 gallons of gasoline from a local fuel distributer. Hank left approximately 2 gallons of gasoline in plastic containers in the back of the store for Dale Wayne Eaton to use to accelerate the fire.

9. At approximately 1:00 a.m. on October 17, an explosion and fire occurred at the H.L. Davis and Co. store. The fire resulted in the H.L Davis store being destroyed along with two adjacent businesses. During fire suppression efforts, a local citizen who was assisting the fire department was killed when the front wall of the H.L. Davis store collapsed. Two volunteer fireman were also injured in this collapse. Damage was estimated in excess of $1 million.

10. On October 18, the State Fire Marshal conducted an origin and cause examination. The cause of the fire was ruled to be arson.

11. On November 6, 1995, Jerry Eaton, along with his attorney, contacted the U.S. Attorney's office advising that he had information regarding the Dale Wayne Eaton drug trafficking organization and the fire at the H.L. Davis store. Jerry gave details of the night of October 16, 1995, regarding the furniture being moved from the store to the Bilbo residence.

12. On November 6, 1995, Dale Wayne Eaton was arrested after having been stopped while driving a stolen Corvette. It was later learned he was fleeing to Mexico to avoid a court appearance regarding Federal firearms and narcotics charges.

13. On November 17 a Federal search warrant was executed at the Bilbo residence, and the antique furniture that had been removed from the H.L. Davis store was recovered, as well as numerous items of clothing and household items that came from the store the night of the fire. During the search, a quantity of methamphetamine was recovered, as well as three firearms. Donald Bilbo, a convicted felon, was charged with violations of the Federal firearms and narcotics laws.

14. On November 21, 1995, Donald and Peggy Bilbo agreed to cooperate in this investigation and gave statements regarding their involvement in Dale Wayne Eaton's narcotics trafficking organization and the fire at the H.L. Davis store.

15. On December 17, 1996, Dale Wayne Eaton and Hank Day were indicted for violations of Federal firearms, narcotics, and arson laws.

16. On June 27, 1996, as the result of a plea agreement reached between Dale Wayne Eaton's attorney and the United States Attorney, Dale Wayne gave a full confession regarding the fire at the H.L. Davis store and agreed to testify against Hank Day.

I. LEGAL ISSUES AND PROBLEMS:

The majority of the evidence against Hank Day was circumstantial. The best evidence against him was the testimony of coconspirators who had previous arrests and convictions.

J. VERDICT AND SENTENCING:

On June 28, 1996, Donnie Eaton pled guilty to violations of the State obstruction of justice laws. He was placed on 10 years' probation.

On June 28, 1996, Donald Bilbo pled guilty in State court to conspiracy to commit arson. Donald Bilbo was sentenced to 6 years in State custody. He also agreed to testify against Hank Day regarding the arson and narcotics charges.

On July 1, 1996, Donald Bilbo and Jerry Eaton pled guilty to violations of the Federal firearms and narcotics laws. Dale Wayne Eaton pled guilty to violations of the Federal arson laws.

On July 2, 1996, Hank Day pled guilty to Federal arson charges and also violations of the Federal narcotics laws.

On October 4, 1996, Donald Bilbo was sentenced to 26 months in Federal custody.

On October 10, 1996, Jerry Eaton was sentenced to 6 years in Federal custody

On October 11, 1996, Dale Wayne Eaton was sentenced to 25 years in Federal custody.

On October 25, 1996, Hank Day was sentenced to 200 months in Federal custody.

 
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