A former plastics industry employee was acquitted of arson Jan. 9 by a federal jury, though he is awaiting trial on another count of arson in an unrelated incident.
In addition, Robert Carl Barger, 29, still could face state charges for the 1997 fire that destroyed injection molder Supreme Plastics Inc.'s White Oak, Texas, facility. That fire killed one employee, said Gregg County District Attorney Bill Jennings.
"Whether or not state charges are forthcoming is still under review," Jennings said.
Barger was a materials handler at the company when the blaze caused $4.5 million in damage, said David Frye, who was Supreme's president at the time of the fire.
"I don't have a comment," Frye said of the verdict in U.S. District Court in Tyler, Texas. "We're all relieved that it's over."
According to Jennings, Barger received a 10-year sentence for arson in 1991 and was out on parole. Frye said Barger lied on his employment application about the conviction.
Barger left Supreme on his own and went to work at Zimmerman Sign Co., a publicly held Longview, Texas-based manufacturer of illuminated signs for firms such as Dollar General Stores, said Duncan Woodford, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tyler.
"Even though he was acquitted this week, Barger is still in jail on a parole revocation and awaiting trial on count two," Woodford said in a Jan. 12 telephone interview. "We allege that he set fire to Zimmerman Sign Co. on May 21, 1999."
The trial has not yet been set.
Barger had told investigators he started the fire at Supreme, Woodford said, but private investigators suggested an agent had browbeat a confession.
"That raised enough doubt for the jury," he said.
Supreme was under private ownership but has been acquired by United Plastics Group Inc. The company serves electronics, industrial and automotive customers.