Free Lance-Star reporter Robyn Sidersky covers Caroline County government and schools. You can reach her at 540/374-5413 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow coverage on Facebook or Twitter as well.
Ladysmith firefighter pleads guilty to trespassing
A firefighter with the Ladysmith Volunteer Fire Department in Caroline County pleaded guilty today to trespassing into the home of a woman whom he had met several years ago when her house was on fire.
Herbert “John” Oates, 33, of Ruther Glen, had been charged with statutory burglary, but entered a plea of no contest to a reduced charge of trespassing in Caroline Circuit Court today. Charges of attempted rape and sexual battery were dropped in a plea agreement.
The agreement also states that if Oates completes an anger management course, has no contact with the woman, pays court costs and stays on good behavior for two years, the charge can be dismissed in August 2013. If not, Judge Joseph J. Ellis said he could serve jail time.
“Our investigation revealed that, while Mr. Oates may not have exercised the best judgment, we could not prove anything more than a trespass,” said Commonwealth Attorney Tony Spencer. “This is the appropriate resolution of the case and the victim is in agreement with the resolution of this matter.”
Oates and his attorney Edward Younger declined to comment in court today.
Oates was arrested Nov. 21 after a stalking complaint was filed with the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office by a woman who had also accused him of assaulting her a month earlier.
The woman, a 28-year-old Spotsylvania County native who now lives in Caroline, testified in February that she first remembered seeing Oates on Oct. 20 at a gas station in Ladysmith. She said he walked up to her and knew her full name and physical address.
This alarmed her, she said, but he explained by saying he was a firefighter and had helped put out a fire at her home a few years ago.
Fire dispatch records show that a kitchen fire occurred at her home in November 2007.
The woman didn’t remember him, but they had a short, friendly conversation and exchanged phone numbers.
The woman said Oates called her repeatedly over the next few days and showed up at her house unannounced with beer on Oct. 22.
She said she let him in and they talked at the kitchen table, but as the night went on, she testified that he began to make advances at her and tried to touch her aggressively and inappropriately to a point that she was frightened and had to force him to leave.
She testified that he came to her house again the next day. She said when she saw him outside in her yard, she immediately ran and hid in a kitchen closet hoping he wouldn’t see her.
She testified he opened the screen door and walked inside her house without permission and started going through her things.
“Then he started talking to himself,” she told the judge.
When he went out the back door to look for her, she called a security guard in her gated neighborhood, who called police.
The security guard, Johnny Gutridge III, testified that when he arrived at the home, he found Oates upstairs in the woman’s house.
When Gutridge asked him what he was doing there, he testified that Oates told him he was there to check on the woman and to bring her some chicken.
Gutridge said Oates was cooperative, but didn’t have any chicken with him and his pass to get into the neighborhood was to visit a brother, not the woman.
Oates has been a career firefighter and EMT in Hanover County since November 2009. He has been a volunteer firefighter and EMT in Ladysmith for 10 years.
Oates had been on administrative leave pending the outcome of his case.