According to Marty Barnes, nothing seemed out of the ordinary at Mary Ellen Wright’s ground-floor apartment in Mitchell the morning it went up in flames, sending her to hospital with serious injuries.
“Everybody was friendly,” said Barnes, a friend from the building next door who would frequently visit, especially for coffee and smokes in the morning.
Barnes testified Wednesday on the second day of Roger Pyne’s Ontario court trial in Stratford for arson and attempted murder.
Pyne has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
Barnes was the third witness Crown lawyer Jeffrey Costain called to the stand as neighbours and first responders recounted what happened on Feb. 11, the day emergency crews answered a fire call on St. David Street shortly after 9 a.m.
Barnes told the court he was in the apartment for about half an hour that morning beginning at around 8 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. He was there drinking coffee and smoking weed with Wright and Pyne, a 28-year-old homeless man who often stayed at the apartment since becoming friends with Wright, 54, a few months earlier.
Before the fire, Wright was helping Pyne fill out application forms for social housing and he considered her his “street mother,” according to earlier testimony.
Shortly after Barnes returned to his apartment to watch a movie, Pyne and his dog joined him and the pair smoked another “joint or two,” something Barnes said wasn’t unusual.
At first, Barnes wasn’t worried when fire trucks arrived, but became more concerned when he looked out his window and saw Wright laying on the ground receiving medical attention.
Ken Monden, a deputy station chief with the volunteer West Perth Fire Department, was in the second fire truck to arrive at the scene, around 9:08 a.m. Monden told the court he saw “smoke and flames” coming from Wright’s unit and that the first crew was extinguishing them as he was exiting the truck.
A team of firefighters tasked with searching the apartment found Wright “immediately,” Monden said. She was rescued from the unit and treated by a medical team on a third fire truck before paramedics arrived.
“She had a pulse and she was faintly breathing,” Monden testified. “She was unconscious.”
Wright was brought to a hospital in Stratford before being transferred to a burn unit in Hamilton. A second injured person rescued from the unit above Wright’s was also brought to hospital with minor injuries.
When he told Pyne what was happening, it was “a little weird” that Pyne didn’t seem to react, Barnes said, but he also said “I wasn’t right in the head when I saw all this happen.”
When Costain asked if he could elaborate, Barnes said: “not really.”
Barnes and Pyne were out shopping later that morning when Pyne was arrested.
OPP Const. Igor Kuzyshyn said he arrested Pyne near a pharmacy at 11:34 a.m. He told the court he found in Pyne’s possession a lighter and a .30-30 cartridge with a yellow ballistic tip.
Pyne was charged with attempted murder, intentionally or recklessly causing damage by fire, and three counts of possession of ammunition while prohibited stemming from an earlier court order.
During cross-examination from Pyne’s lawyer, David McCarthy, Barnes said he was also in Wright’s apartment partying with Pyne and others well into the early hours of the morning before their 8 a.m. coffees. He said he was there until around 4 a.m.
“Everybody was tired that day,” Barnes said.
Following up on a line of questions that began during Wright’s testimony on the trial’s first day, McCarthy also asked Barnes if Wright had a habit of nodding off while she was smoking.
Barnes said she did, contradicting earlier testimony from Wright who denied during the first day of the trial ever falling asleep while holding a lit cigarette.
An expert from the Office of the Ontario Fire Marshal is expected to testify at a future date.
The trial continues Nov. 16