Orange County

UNC fire suspect released from Orange County Jail under $1M bond with conditions

UNC officials have said a Nov. 2 fire that caused an explosion at the base of the Chapel Hill campus landmark Davie Poplar didn’t do any lasting damage to the tree.
UNC officials have said a Nov. 2 fire that caused an explosion at the base of the Chapel Hill campus landmark Davie Poplar didn’t do any lasting damage to the tree. Submitted photo

A former student charged with setting a fire on UNC’s campus was released from jail Monday pending trial.

Joshua Daniel Edwards, 25, of Durham, was released to his parents’ custody after District Court Judge Beverly Scarlett set bail at $1 million unsecured Monday. Edwards originally was held under $200,000 secured bail, which would have required his family to post the full amount through a bondsman or with cash or property.

The unsecured bond did not require Edwards’ family to post any money, but they do have to meet several conditions, including being under the 24-hour supervision of his father, attending all his mental health appointments and court hearings, checking in regularly with Orange County’s pretrial release program, and staying away from UNC’s campus except when seeking medical treatment.

His father potentially could be held in contempt of court if he doesn’t meet the supervision requirements.

Edwards is charged with six felony counts of malicious use of explosives to inflict injury, malicious use of explosives to damage property, assembling a weapon of mass destruction, setting fire to grass or grassland, assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, and filing a false police report. He has been in the Orange County jail since his release from involuntary mental commitment to UNC Hospitals on Nov. 16.

Joshua Edwards1
Joshua Edwards

Edwards’ parents, who live in Davidson County, plan to seek treatment for him in Winston-Salem, according to Assistant Public Defender Natasha Adams. Edwards has mental conditions that surfaced in the last couple of years, and the family wants to make sure he has the right diagnosis and medications, she has said.

The prosecutor’s office strongly opposed an unsecured bond for Edwards, Assistant District Attorney Jeff Nieman said, due to “the seriousness of the offense, the danger that he posed and poses, and the fact that he is charged among other things with a (Class) D felony that, if convicted, would require imposition of an active prison term.”

Several witnesses reported seeing Edwards set fire to a backpack and a guitar beside the university’s landmark Davie Poplar tree and walk away Nov. 2, according to Nieman.

UNC Professor Dan Reichart, who ran to kick dirt over the small fire, was injured when a camping fuel canister inside the backpack exploded. Nieman said the explosion caused “fairly substantial” first- and second-degree burns to Reichart’s arms and face.

The fire also scorched but did not permanently harm the Davie Poplar, estimated to be over 300 years old.

UNC Public Safety caught Edwards at the scene, Nieman said. An arrest warrant states Edwards told at least one investigator that he had a gasoline canister with a wick in it in his car in Carrboro. The claim forced the Carrboro Police Department to evacuate and cordon off most of downtown Carrboro for several hours until the Durham County bomb squad could detonate the car’s trunk.

Carrboro police said they did not find anything suspicious in the car.

Edwards is scheduled to be in Orange County District Court again on Jan. 12 for an administrative hearing, Nieman said.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb